ST. PETERSBURG — A red carpet led mourners to the tiny white casket, not much longer than an outstretched arm. Joseph Artis IV was nicknamed "Turtle," and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fabric lined his coffin.
"To be disturbed today, that is something that's normal," Brother Eric Graham said from behind a lectern.
A couple hundred people sat in folding chairs and on bleachers inside the Wildwood Recreation Center basketball gymnasium Saturday afternoon.
The 4-year-old's grandmother, father, two sisters and uncle sat nearest the casket.
Next, a woman walked to the lectern and spoke a poem about Joseph's headstone. Born May 23, 2009 — died March 28, 2014, she said it would read.
As the community mourned the untimely loss of such a young child, the boy's mother was locked up in Pinellas County Jail, charged with first-degree murder and the death of her son.
Joseph's grandmother had custody of the boy because his mother, Tasha Trotter, 40, had spent much of the last decade in a mental health facility. Just two months before the boy's fifth birthday, Trotter visited him at his grandmother's 13th Avenue S home. Although Trotter was prone to eccentric behavior, she seemed to be in a normal mood that day. But as she sat on the porch, family said she rushed inside and grabbed a knife, stabbed Joseph multiple times and then held the bloodied boy on the front lawn until police arrived.
At the funeral Saturday, the woman at the lectern said "What matters most is the dash between those two years," referring to the years of Joseph's birth and death. That small dash, said Maggie Miles, an employee of Dallas & Davis Funeral Services, represents the short four years of memories that will last forever.
Then the pallbearers, each wearing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pocket squares, lifted the tiny casket. It was barely long enough to fit the four men, and their shoulders rubbed beneath it. A shaking father, a solemn grandmother, the two sisters and uncle followed. And behind them, the rest of the community.
Weston Phippen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8321.