LAWRENCE — In late July 2010, after Denise Murray's son was shot to death, she worked for months afterward to have an anti-violence message posted on a city billboard.
Her son, Timothy Walker, 20, was gone. But Murray vowed to be the voice for him and all murder victims going forward.
"I cry for him every day. I can't hold him anymore. But I will keep his memory alive until I don't have a breath left in me," Murray vowed in December 2011 after the billboard along the Falls Bridge was unveiled.
Murray, 50, died in her sleep on Jan. 4 at her Methuen home, a tragic death being mourned throughout Greater Lawrence.
A mother affected by violence, Murray responded by promoting peace and spreading kindness in any way she could.
Friends held a virtual vigil this week and started a Facebook page in her memory titled "In honor of Denise Murray."
"Someone said on her page that's she was an angel. And that's the truth," said Lee Fickenworth, a Lawrence woman who knew Murray since they attended Lawrence High together.
Like Murray, Fickenworth also lost a child to violence. Her son, Gabriel Gonzalez, 18, was murdered on Jan. 28, 2009, and the case remains unsolved.
"We had a real-life angel," Fickenworth added.
Close friend Raquel Centeno recalled celebrating Murray's 50th birthday on Feb. 10. Murray had been eying a red dress she wanted to wear that night and Centeno, who sews, made her one similar.
The COVID-19 pandemic was emerging and people weren't dining out at Chinese restaurants. But that night, Murray, in her new red dress, and friends went for Chinese food. Centeno recalled Murray saying, "Watch, I'm going to make their month," as she ordered $200 in Chinese food for the group.
"It's so hard to imagine not having her in our lives again," Centeno said.
A native of Methuen, Murray was educated in Lawrence. In her obituary, she's described as a "Merrimack Valley icon, and well-known glamour queen who left a sparkle wherever she went."
"Denise was a fierce advocate for the Stop The Violence movement and for Mothers of Murdered Children. Denise was the first person on the doorstep of a grieving family who lost their child to violence and she conducted her own investigation which led to the conviction of her son's murderer," according to her obituary, prepared by the Dewhirst & Boles Funeral Home of Methuen.
In addition to Timothy, Murray is survived by a son, Myles, and a daughter, Kenya Ferrell, both of Lawrence, and four grandchildren who lovingly called her "LaLa." She is also survived by her parents Mae (Kitty) and Carlton (CC) Christie.
Murray worked for many years as the administrative assistant for the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce and was most recently employed by MA Hire Merrimack Valley Workforce Board.
"She cared so much about her clients and they cared so much about her. She always went above and beyond," Fickenworth said.
Centeno said she first met Murray after her own daughter died. They were inseparable afterward, but she said their common denominator was not the loss of their children — but their desire to help others.
"We discovered we do the same things for the community and shared the empathy that's needed to be non-biased, non-judging but at the same time feel the desperation of families, children and the homeless," Centeno said.
It was baby clothes that brought Jeananne Boudreau back to Murray, whom she initially met in high school.
About eight years ago, Boudreau put out a request for infant clothing for a very young lady who was expecting a baby any day.
Murray responded with four bags of baby clothes and the two realized they knew each other from high school.
For the past four years or so, Boudreau said she made Murray her special brownies with cookie dough, Oreos, brownie batter and Reese's pieces, her son Timothy's favorite, for Christmas.
"I made it and she was going to grab it last week but never got the chance," said Boudreau, of South Lawrence.
She described Murray as an "exceptional example of strength, always kind, always loving."
"She lived for all her children and all mothers families who lost their own children ... There was just nothing she wouldn't do or want to do for the betterment of others," Boudreau said.
A wake was held Friday morning and the funeral service and burial were private due to COVID-19.
Fickenworth said it's hard to recall one special thing about Murray because there were so many.
"She was a lovely person. I will never forget her," Fickenworth said.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.