Darnell Mears of St. Peter holds the photo of murder victim Michaela Widmer. Mears is attempting to adopt Widmer’s 4-year-old daughter, Kassandra, who he said he has helped raise since she was a baby.

Darnell Mears concedes he’s not the father of Kassandra Brown, the 4-year-old girl whose mother was murdered in St. Peter last weekend.

But Mears — who was to marry Michaela Widmer, Kassandra’s mother, in August — says he’s the only dad the little girl has ever known, and he plans to keep it that way.

Kassandra is in the custody of her grandfather at the moment. Mears, however, is pursuing formal adoption of the girl. Mears says he’s been in the girl’s life since she was 6 months old.

Michaela Widmer, 22, was stabbed to death Saturday, her body found in a Kasota cemetery. Investigators suspect she was killed by Ricardo Taber, 53, a neighbor in the same mobile home park. His body was found in his home where he apparently commit suicide by ingesting a substance. The Ramsey County medical examiner is awaiting results of toxicology tests.

Friends and family say Taber, who apparently had an obsession with Widmer, persuaded her to accompany him to Mankato. He’d apparently told Widmer he won money in the lottery and wanted to give her some. The trip to Mankato, Mears said, was to deposit a check into Widmer’s bank account. Kassandra went along with them.

Late Friday, Kassandra was found alone at a boat launch at Lake Emily. The next day, after Mears told authorities of his suspicions, they found Taber’s body inside his home. And on Sunday, Widmer’s body was located.

The full story has yet to emerge, but as it does, Mears, 31, a self-employed handyman who lived with Widmer for four years, is getting support from his neighbors. Some of them were also friends with Tyler Heilman, the Kasota man shot and killed by a Le Sueur County Sheriff’s deputy July 20.

Mears, in fact, said that one week before Heilman died, he watched a few houses down as Heilman taught his little boy how to ride a bike.

“A lot of people are thinking ‘Who is next? What is next?’” he said. “The only reason I haven’t moved out is because I still feel her here.”

Mears said he and others in the park want Taber’s mobile home removed and destroyed. His feelings for Taber are raw. They’re also written across the bug shield on the grill of his pickup.

“Burn in hell Rick,” it says. And on the window of the home he shared with Widmer it says, “Rick Taber stole the love of my life.”

Jenny Cross is the mobile home’s new manager. She moved in Saturday, the day police discovered Taber’s body and taped off much of the area around his and Widmer’s homes.

The incident prompted her to check with police to make sure there wasn’t a crime problem in town (they assured her the park is safe).

She said that since she arrived from Windom, she’s seen many neighbors consoling Mears and extending a helping hand.

“There’s always people there,” she said of the well-wishers at Mears’ place, which sits across the street and down a few doors from Cross’ office.

Funeral services for Widmer are 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Henry’s Catholic Church.

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