Nearly one year since two-year-old Arianna Fitts disappeared from San Francisco, family and community members determined to locate the young girl gathered on Saturday to hold a candlelight vigil and reinstill hope that the toddler is still alive.
The young girl was reported missing in early April 2016 just days after her mother, Nicole Fitts, was found dead in John McLaren Park. While grieving the loss of her sister, Contessa Fitts has remained committed to finding her young niece, who was last seen in February.
"I can't believe it's been a year already," Contessa Fitts said. "I still can't believe that all of this has even happened. It seems to unreal."
Despite the "devastation" that the whole ordeal has triggered, Contessa Fitts is still optimistic.
"I do believe that Arianna is still alive," she said.
Police said Arianna Fitts sometimes stayed with caregivers for extended periods while her mother worked.
Claire Bonnar, a friend of Nicole Fitts, believes the child could be with a former babysitter, Helena Martin, who has been questioned multiples times by police.
"The silence on (Martin's) part and the part of her family has been staggering," Bonnar said before claiming that the babysitter played a part in the toddler's disappearance.
Martin's attorney presented the following statement to NBC Bay Area:
"We want the baby to be found. We are as traumatized and as concerned as anyone else. Helena Martin was not involved. Once it was put out there that she was a person of interest, it made her life very difficult."
Contessa Fitts said "it's a high possibility" that Martin could have also handed the toddler to someone else.
"I do believe that someone is caring for (Arianna)," Contessa Fitts said. "I believe that the whole reason this happened is because someone wanted Arianna."
Meanwhile, authorities continue to investigate the death of Nicole Fitts. Recreation and Park Department employees on April 8 found her body buried in a shallow grave near a playground and covered with a plywood board. Police have not released a cause of death.
Nicole Fitts was last seen on the night of April 1, when she went to meet someone she knew, and was reported missing by her family on April 5, according to police. Police said they had obtained video showing Nicole Fitts near the area where her body was later found.
Many questions still remain in the case, but on Friday San Francisco police uncovered a new lead — a car that may be connected to the case.
That discovery gave Contessa Fitts a glimmer of hope.
"That's huge," she said. "Knowing this detail is huge for me. It gives me hope that it's going to soon, hopefully soon, lead to the people who are responsible."
Nicole Fitts was an employee at a Best Buy store on Harrison Street in San Francisco, and the store last year announced a $10,000 reward for information in the case.
Police have executed search warrants at locations in Oakland, Emeryville and Daly City in an effort to locate Arianna and also followed up on leads in Southern California. Police are also reviewing computer, cell phone and financial records.