Looking Back: Mourners bid farewell to three homicide victims
Three shiny black hearses. Three flower-adorned caskets.
Three smiling faces erected at the front of the sanctuary.
That was the scene at Cascade Hills Church on Monday as about 1,000 people walked quietly into the building, located at 727 54th St.
The crowd was there to bid farewell to Gloria Short, 56; her son Caleb, 17; and her granddaughter, Gianna, 10. The three were brutally beaten and killed Jan. 4 at their 3057 Bentley Drive home in Columbus.
The "Celebration of Life" drew black and white, young and old to the worship center. They arrived as early as 9 a.m. for the 11 a.m. service, despite the cold.
Those who attended included several law enforcement and elected officials. Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and City Councilor Jerry "Pops" Barnes sat on the platform with local ministers. The Columbus Police Department's bike squad led the funeral procession to the interment held at Green Acres Cemetery immediately after the ceremony. A repast was held at New Testament Christian Center.
During the funeral service, grown men wept, and women and teenagers wailed, as the mourners reflected on the lives of the three victims. The crowd included many students from Shaw High School, where Caleb was enrolled.
Sitting at the front of the sanctuary were a host of family members, which included Short's husband, Robert; her daughters, Shameika Averett and Lindsey Roberson; and her son Kevin Jones. Averett is also the mother of Gianna, called "Gigi" by her loved ones.
All three caskets - one brown, one burgandy, one bronze - were closed.
"We greet you and we say that we weep with you," said the Rev. Reggie Williams, pastor of South Columbus United Methodist Church. "We also acknowledge that there are no words that are suitable enough to relieve you of the pain that you feel. And when we think about the evil that's in our society and the brokenness that we see all around us in the lives of people, and those of the person or persons that perpetrated this, I want you to know that not only do we weep, but God weeps too."
He told the family to draw strength from the comforting words of Jesus as he left his disciples. "He says, 'I will be with you even to the end of the ages, even 'till the end of time.'"
Other ministers who participated in the program included Bishop Marshall McGill, of Kingdom Metropolitan Worship Center, and the Rev. Delta Outley, of Abundant Life Full Gospel Church. Loielle Paulk, in her prayer of comfort, asked God to strengthen each family member and give them hope.
"Lord we hand over the tears, we hand over the anger," she prayed. "Lord, you know what to do, and how to do. God, you fix it."
Four relatives spoke on behalf of the family. They included Roberson, Short's daughter; Earnestine Perryman, Short's sister-in-law; Denicia Sumbry, Short's niece and Shamika Lindsey, Gianna's father's sister.
They described Short as a kind, loving woman who went above and beyond for her family. Sumbry, Short's niece, said her mother became disabled when she was a little girl, and then died in 2005. Short treated her just like one of her daughters.
"Although my aunt had four kids of her own, she personally welcomed me in and I became one of hers," she said. "If the girls got their hair done, I got my hair done. If the girls got new clothes, I got new clothes. There was not a time that she was not there for me. She cried with me, she laughed with me, and she most definitely fought for me. She gave me motherly advice and made sure that she helped me to be led in the right direction."
Sumbry, who is expecting a baby, said her aunt was excited about planning a shower for her during their last conversation.
"She was overjoyed that I was finally pregnant and could not wait to see her nephew or her 'Beanie Baby,' as she would call him," Sumbry said. "I've now lost two mothers, but I feel extra blessed because they are both smiling over us."
Gianna, a Girl Scout and dancer, was described as a pleasant child who respected her elders. She was a 5th-grader at Ridgecrest Elementary School in Phenix City, and had recently placed 2nd in her school grade spelling bee, according to her obituary. She was scheduled to participate in a school-wide spelling competition.
Her aunt, Shamika Lindsey, read a poem on behalf of Gianna's father, Gene Lindsey, and Averett. The poem, titled "Losing a Child," was written by a poet named Glenna Marie Durand.
"It's hard to accept losing a child, why wasn't it me?" Lindsey read. "Life is too short, as it is. I don't agree that it's our destiny."
Family and friends said Caleb was a shy teenager who loved sports and was just learning to talk to girls. Some of his classmates and teachers were featured in a video reflecting on his life. Photos of Caleb flashed across two large screens, triggering loud sobs from some in audience.
Perryman, in her remarks, read tributes from Robert Short to his wife, son and granddaughter.
"You were the unbreakable bond of love that held our family together,” Robert Short wrote to his wife. "You loved me, our children and our grandchildren very much. No matter what you were going through, you would put everyone else first. Family, extended family, friends would migrate to our houses for holidays and special occasions because of you. ...I was blessed to have you as a wife, partner and friend. I love you and I will miss you. Love your husband, Robert."
In his letter to Caleb, Robert Short said God had blessed the couple with him during their middle years. "You are our baby. You were our joy. You kept us young. Even though we spoiled you, you were a good son. "
To Gianna, he wrote: "I know God sent an angel down to be with us for a little while. I will miss you saying to me, 'I love you, Ole Pa. I love you."
The eulogy was delivered by Robert Short's younger brother, the Rev. Gary L. Perryman, pastor of Higher Heights Missionary Baptist Church in Moorehead, Miss. His daughter, Arleshia Perryman, sang "Take Me to the King," which brought people to their feet.
Perryman said he wrestled with his emotions all week, and couldn't make sense of the tragedy. But he found answers in scripture.
"The Bible says that death is the direct result of sin. Not Gloria's sin, not Caleb's sin, not Gigi's sin, but the sin of man in the world," he said. "The wages of sin is death. It was because of sin, corruption and violence that God destroyed the earth by a flood."
He said there's a day coming when sin will be no more and God will set up a new kingdom.
"There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, no more crying, neither shall there be any more pain," he said. "For the former things will be passed away."