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Memorial Service for Baby Melissa

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – About 100 people filled the Buffalo Covenant Church on Kenmore Avenue Wednesday night to honor an eight-month-old baby who was beaten to death.

While baby Melissa's mother undergoes psychiatric evaluation at ECMC, those seeking comfort to deal with the child's death prayed together Wednesday night. Witnesses told police they saw the mother, Kirsten Vanderlinde, repeatedly pound her child against the sidewalk last Friday outside their Kenmore Avenue home. Vanderlinde has been charged with second degree murder.

The child's father, Tony Berst, attended Wednesday night's service. The leader of the Buffalo Covenant church, Pastor Dan Ward, says the memorial was to offer comfort to family and friends of baby Melissa as everyone tries to make sense of what went wrong.

"If we had know the future, all of us would have done something," Ward said. "But we don't know the future"

Ward says he has known the couple for about four years, but they always appeared to be a happy family.

"I don't know whether she (Vanderlinde) fell through the cracks. From what we could tell, and in my experience, she was doing well and taking care of Melissa," Ward said. "Friday, when I got a call from one of our parishioners, I went on a Web site to check the news and I was shocked. It came as a complete surprise because I thought she was doing well."

But a nurse who had cared for the mother and the baby told those gathered Wednesday night that Melissa's death could have been prevented. She says changes in legislation dealing with treating the mentally ill are needed.

Vanderlinde is scheduled to appear in court on Monday.