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Victim's mother hopes her daughter's death helped catch a killer

Lori Townsend believes her daughter’s death helped stop a serial killer.

Shortly after the body of her daughter, Afrika Hardy, 19, was found Friday at a Motel 6 in Hammond, Ind., police arrested Darren D. Vann. They think he strangled Hardy — and suspect he also may have killed six other women whose bodies have recently been found in neighboring Gary.

Charges were expected to be filed against Vann sometime Monday.

“I have to look at my daughter’s death as an ending to this madness that this man has been doing,” said Townsend.

RELATED: Suspect in custody after bodies of seven women found in NW Indiana

Hardy was raised in the Chicago area until she was nine, and then moved to Aurora, Co, where she attended high school. She moved back to Chicago in July to live with relatives in the Garfield neighborhood on the West Side and start a new chapter in her life.

“She wanted to spread her wings, go back home and start school and learn music engineering, find a little job,” Townsend told the Sun-Times over the phone Monday from her Colorado home.

Detectives said Vann arranged to meet Hardy at the motel through an online escort service.

“I believe what the detectives told me,” Townsend said. “I believe that to be the truth . . . I don’t condone that but these girls, they fall into the hands of that, and it doesn’t matter if you come from a million-dollar family or a poverty-stricken family, these girls fall into the hands of that,” Townsend said.

“I had no indication that that was going on . . . I think she was probably ashamed to tell me or what not, but I had no indication until I found out from detectives.”

“She was too trusting of people,” Townsend said. “There was kind of a naivete she had about her. She was smart. She was talented. She was more than just what’s being misconstrued. She has sisters and brothers and is a daughter.”

“My baby, she was like the light of my life. Not only mine, but apparently everybody that she met. She had this way with people, this smile about her. She always encouraged people. If you needed anything, she’d give it.

Townsend, 43, who works as a cashier, said she was in touch with her daughter every day, and last spoke with her Thursday via instant messaging on Facebook.

“She sent me the last pictures she had taken of herself. She told me she was getting fat and I told her ‘no’ and she said ‘yes’ and I said ‘no’ and she sent me another picture . . . she loved taking pictures. She was a diva. She was my beauty queen.”

“Now my child is gone. I can’t call her on the phone. I can’t hear her voice. I can’t hug her one last time. I can’t tell her I love her one last time,” Townsend said.

“Whatever anybody tries to tell me, condolences or whatever, I hear it but I’m not feeling it right now. It’s very surreal still. I just know what she would want me to do and that’s to be a strong person and handle the business end and make sure there’s a proper little memorial service for her.”

Hardy was planning on returning to Colorado to spend Thanksgiving with her mom.

“Every Wednesday we’d go out to lunch or go shopping or get our nails done, do girl things. I don’t have no one to do that with now,” she said.

“I just want justice to be served I want this man to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, not just for my child, but for all these women who have been found,” she said.

“My daughter could pick up a book and read it within a day, that was a passion of hers. She had this mind for learning, she was like a sponge,” Townsend added.

“She wrote poetry, she wrote short stories, there’s nothing she couldn’t have done. The sky was the limit for her, but it was taken. And she sang like an angel. She sang with different performers here in Colorado and they urged her to take it more seriously.”

Hardy had been living with her stepfather’s family in the Garfield neighborhood on the West Side since she arrived back in Chicago in July. She lived in the neighborhood, as well as west suburban Aurora, before moving to Colorado.

Hardy was in the process of applying to several colleges and finding a job, said her cousin, Latasha Allen. Hardy had become friends with a woman who lives in Indiana, who was with her around the time of her death, family members said.

The friend alerted Hardy’s little sister on Saturday via Facebook with a puzzling message that simply asked her to tell Hardy’s parents to call a phone number she included in the message.

Hardy’s little sister took it upon herself to call the number, which was the number to the Lake County Coroner’s office.

“When they said it was the coroner’s office, she thought it was a joke,” Allen said.

Several family members drove to the coroner’s office in Crown Point, Ind., and identified Hardy by looking at a photo of her face, as well as comparing tattoos on her body with photos Hardy had posted of herself on Facebook.

Allen, 40, a Chicago Transportation Authority bus driver, said Allen was “a typical girl.”

She said that family members haven’t spoken yet with the friend from Indiana who Hardy was visiting, but the family is focusing on remembering the good things about the “beautiful girl whose smile could light up a room.”

“She loved to dress and her hair . . . She loved to be on her phone looking at Facebook and she loved the smaller kids in the family, always reading books with them taking them to the park,” Allen said.

Hardy was getting her transcripts together to apply to Truman and Triton Colleges. She was looking into getting financial aid. And she had applied to work at McDonald’s, as well as a seasonal job with the U.S. Postal Service.

Hardy’s stepfather, who is divorced from Townsend, works in a suburban factory and lives on the West Side.

When Hardy arrived at Union Station in Chicago from Denver this summer, her stepfather was there to greet her, Allen said.

“We were all so happy to see her. I had tears in my eyes. A lot of us hadn’t seen her since she moved to Colorado 10 years ago, and she remembered all of us.”