The dolls and stuffed animals that brought 10-year-old Gianna Lindsey an abundance of joy during her brief life are still lined up around her bedroom.
Her mother, Shameika Averett, considers the toys a source of both pain and comfort as she grapples with the death of her only child.
"Whenever she comes home and has to walk past Gianna's room, it's pretty hard for her," said Averett's boyfriend, Johnny King, who lives with her in their Fort Mitchell, Ala., home.
Yet sometimes she stops by the room to pray or just lie in the child's bed, he said.
This has been life for Averett ever since Monday, when she learned that her daughter had been brutally killed in a triple homicide, which also claimed the lives of her 56-year-old mother, Gloria Short, and her 17-year-old brother, Caleb.
Short's husband, Robert Short Jr., found the bodies when he arrived to their 3057 Bentley Drive home after working a 12-hour night shift at a local hospital.
The family's sorrow was further compounded two days later when Short's 68-year-old brother, Robert Averett, died of a heart attack after he heard the news about the homicides, said Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan.
The case, one of the most heinous crimes in Columbus' recent past, is still under investigation. No suspects have been named, as detectives have maintained custody of the crime scene.
Averett, 36, spoke publicly about the deaths at a community service of prayer Wednesday in Fort Mitchell. On Friday, she told a Ledger-Enquirer reporter that she was too emotionally drained to be interviewed and asked King to speak on her behalf.
King said Averett has had to select three caskets to bury her loved ones. The funerals are set for 11 a.m. Monday at Cascade Hills Church in Columbus. A wake will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. today at McMullen Funeral Home.
"After the funeral is when it's going to really hit the wall," King said. "We were just told (Friday) that the coroner doesn't want us having an open casket. So that was pretty rough on her."
King said Gianna lived with the couple in their Fort Mitchell home. She was a fifth-grader at Ridgecrest Elementary School in Phenix City, but she stayed with Short whenever school was out because King and Averett both had to work.
The night before the slayings, Averett had gone to Gloria Short's house to give the child a bath and help her mother, who had back problems. When Averett returned home, she had a sweet potato pie that her mother had baked for King, and it's still in the refrigerator.
"I was going to call her and tell her thank you, but I never did," he said.
King described Gianna as a typical little girl with a big heart.
"I remember for Christmas, when we were all opening our presents, she looked at her mom to make sure I had a present," he said. "She was that type of person. She wanted to make sure everybody had a present and everybody was happy. And she was always smiling, always laughing and giggling."
King said his children live in Albany, Ga., with their mother but stayed at his home on weekends. They were all together for Christmas.
"We got her a new bike and she was outside riding with my (7-year-old) daughter, and they were just having a good time," he said.
Now, his children are devastated.
Gianna was a Girl Scout and a member of a dance team at Kingdom Metropolitan Worship Centre on Airport Thruway.
The Rev. Marshall McGill, the church's senior pastor, sent an email to the Ledger-Enquirer expressing the church's sorrow.
"The little girl who lost her life once attended our church, she was a part of our youth department and also performed regularly on our dance team," he wrote. "She had the most amazing spirit, she was so respectful and joyous. All the children loved her and obviously she will be forever missed.
"She was like a daughter to me and my heart aches for her entire family," he added. "I personally haven't slept all week."
McGill said Averett has been a true example of a Proverbs 31 woman in how she has handled the tragedy.
"She is so strong and she's very thankful of all the love and support her and her family are receiving from everyone," he said. "(I've) never seen such a (strong) human being. She's an example of what Christ is all about!"
McGill said the congregation will sing a special song in memory of Gianna at today's church service, and the dance team will perform. The congregation also will hold a candle light service to honor each of the victims.
The church's school, Kingdom Christian Academy and Preparatory School, is establishing a full scholarship in Gianna's name, McGill added. He said the scholarship would be awarded annually to five female students and will provide them free enrollment until they graduate. The school goes from pre-k3 through 12th grade.
McGill said the church is also donating several thousand dollars to the family and for a reward to capture "the perpetrators of this horrific crime."
"I'm planning to unite with other leaders both religious and government in the (near) future to establish an ongoing forum to address the increase of violence within our community," he said. "I'm very confident that if we all come together these issues can be and will be resolved. Meantime, we ask for everyone to pray for the healing and restoration of these bereaved families and our community."
One day after the triple homicide, two people were killed and a third was wounded in a Fort Mitchell shooting. Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said Tuesday afternoon that Travon Harmon, 19, is in custody has been charged with capital murder in the deaths of his 77-year-old grandfather and 26-year-old sister.
King said Averett's mother and brother will also not be forgotten. He said Gloria Short was a member of several civic groups, including Soul of My Footprint, a local nonprofit that disseminates supplies of medicine, shoes, clothing and basic care items for people in Africa.
"She was just an awesome person," he said. "She would do anything for anybody."
She had four children. Those still living include Averett, Kevin Jones of Columbus and Lindsey Roberson of Albany, Ga.
King said Caleb, Short's youngest child, loved to play basketball.
"He was a Nike shoe fanatic," he said. "He had to have the latest Jordans, so he was just a typical kid."
King said his girlfriend is a Medicare counselor for the River Valley Area Agency on Aging, and is known by many people in the community. She's also vice president of the SALT Council, which stands for Seniors and Law Enforcement Together.
He said Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and Maj. Wanna Wright, of the Columbus Police Department, are among the friends who have come by the house with food and comfort. And the family appreciates all the community support.
King said he has been amazed by Averett's strength since the tragedy, but she still questions why God would allow her to experience so much loss. He believes God is using her witness to bless others.
"He has taken a lot from you and whenever God takes a lot from you, he always gives you back double if you keep the faith," he tells her. "So don't lose the faith."