ARIPEKA — Visitation wasn't supposed to start for another half-hour, but the church lot was full. People parked in the sand and weeds, as far as you could see, up and down the road. Few came alone. Most held hands. Children brought stuffed animals for their friend.
They peered into the small, white casket at 5-year-old Delaney Rossman, dressed in the pink fairy costume she had worn trick-or-treating with her sisters on Halloween just days before the awful crash Friday night.
Delaney, a triplet with Gabrielle and Isabella, had been playing with her sisters and a friend in a yard a few houses from theirs on Kings Manor Avenue in Hudson when a neighbor lost control of her Jeep. Gabrielle lay in a coma for days, but now is stable at a Tampa hospital with broken bones. Isabella had cuts and bruises. Their 10-year-old sister, Victoria, who tried to get her sisters out of the way of the speeding vehicle, was not injured.
The highway patrol is investigating and has not charged the driver, Betty-Jo Tagerson, 39.
The triplets had just started kindergarten this year. They were almost ready to get the training wheels off their identical purple bikes. Delaney, who always wore pink, was getting good at coloring inside the lines.
Isabella was not at the funeral Thursday afternoon at the plain, white 100-year-old Aripeka Baptist Church. Moments before the service, pews packed and mourners standing against the walls, Victoria and her mother, Danielle Malm, walked up the aisle to the casket. Malm held Victoria close and gently kissed her head.
Only the preacher spoke.
"How can we conquer this grief?" asked the Rev. Joe Sims. "How can we conquer this black cloud that overwhelms us?"
Through faith in the Lord, he said. He quoted scripture and sang a hymn. He said Satan caused this and that God is with Delaney.
Everyone is asking: "Why, Preacher?" Sims said. God doesn't make mistakes, he said. "Jesus has wrapped his arms around another one of his children," he said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.