LARGO — Images of a little girl so full of life flashed on a screen in the chapel: Kassidie Rae McMillin clutching her baby doll, hugging her cousin, posing in her Hello Kitty pajamas.
Just 10 years old, Kassidie's life was cut short last week. Her mother, Tina Marie Foster, shot her and then fatally shot herself in their Dunedin home. Kassidie died two days later on May 14.
Friday, about 200 friends and family filled a A Life Tribute Funeral Care chapel to say goodbye to the sweet, sandy-haired girl who loved chocolate chip cookies, riding her scooter and counting caterpillars.
Many of the mourners wore purple, Kassidie's favorite color.
The Rev. Robert Scarallo tried to comfort the group, which included teachers and classmates at Kassidie's school, San Jose Elementary in Dunedin.
He told them he had spoken with people who had life-after-death experiences. And he is sure that life on this Earth is not the end.
"She is in great peace and great joy," Scarallo said. "Life is very much real after this life."
As he spoke, a 7-year-old boy in the front row, Kassidie's cousin Logan Fuseek, covered his eyes and sobbed. Soon his 8-year old sister, Desiree Clucas, began weeping, too. Their parents embraced them until the tears stopped.
Kassidie's father, Derrick McMillin, shared how he loved to take Kassidie to theme parks and how proud he was that she still made good grades even after he divorced her mother, Tina Foster.
He recalled how Kassidie was his bundle of joy and how she rarely cried, except when she had her picture taken.
"You were strong, and, for this, you will continue to be my inspiration to do good," said McMillin, 36, who is battling addiction to pain pills and is staying at a residential drug treatment center.
"You live in the lives of other children now. I love you, Kassidie Rae McMillin," said McMillin, who decided to donate Kassidie's organs. "I always will."
At McMillin's request, Scarallo invited mourners to share their thoughts about Kassidie.
One of Kassidie's classmates, Heather Smith, said she loved Kassidie very much, like a best friend.
"I miss her very bad and I just wanted to say that," said Heather, 10.
Another friend, Nathan Bernier, remembered how much fun he had playing with Kassidie.
"We always had good times and stuff," said Nathan, 10, through his sniffles. "We would laugh and they would always bring me to church."
McMillin's friend from the treatment center, Drew Merta, said he had the honor of knowing Kassidie, "one of the sweetest girls" he ever met. He recalled how she ran to greet his 2-year-old son with handfuls of candy and snacks.
Scarallo said there are some acts we will never understand. He didn't specifically mention Kassidie's mother, but he urged the group to try to forgive. He said forgiving does not mean excusing or condoning what happened. Instead, he said, it means letting go of hurt and resentment.
"For Kassidie's sake, if we are going to do her memory justice, we need to heal."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.