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Hundreds march in St. Petersburg in memory of slain child

Rose Couch, center, raises her hand as she chants with the family of slain 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton during a march to Smith Funeral Home for the girl’s wake on Friday in St. Petersburg. Couch was Paris’ great-aunt.

KATHLEEN FLYNN | Times

Rose Couch, center, raises her hand as she chants with the family of slain 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton during a march to Smith Funeral Home for the girl’s wake on Friday in St. Petersburg. Couch was Paris’ great-aunt.

ST. PETERSBURG — They marched for Paris Whitehead-Hamilton on Good Friday.

"What do you want?" Sevell Brown asked the crowd through his bullhorn.

"Justice!" they said.

"When do you want it?" asked Brown, the Florida chapter president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

"Now!" they answered.

More than 200 strong, they marched along 18th Avenue S in Bartlett Park clutching posters of the little girl. Dozens of family and friends wore her picture on white T-shirts.

It shows Paris dressed in white, her hair tied in ponytails with pink barrettes. She is smiling.

The crowd carried a banner asking residents to "connect the dots" — to stand up to the street violence that permeates their neighborhoods and to end the silence that feeds it.

"We want peace on our streets," they chanted as they crossed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

And then, nine blocks and 30 minutes later, they arrived at their destination: Smith Funeral Home.

And that's when the mood changed, when the crowd grew silent. Marchers lined up at the door, their heads bowed.

Now they were mourners.

Inside, a little girl lay still in a pink coffin.

She was shot dead in her own home on Sunday.

• • •

More than 500 people came to the wake to pay their respects to the 8-year-old girl who was killed by gunfire, police say, meant for another.

Paris' family dominated the front row, sitting across from her pink coffin with the white lining.

She was known as "Princess Paris" in life. She was every bit a princess in death. She wore a tiara. A teddy bear lay at her feet. And she was dressed in pink.

Paris' family has declined to speak publicly since her death. Her mother, Robin Whitehead, died in 2006 from a fall.

Her father, Robert Hamilton, recently returned home from the military overseas for his daughter's services. The funeral is at 11 a.m. today at New Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church.

The girl was living with her aunt, Shenita Joseph, when she died. Joseph sat up front by the coffin as This Little Light of Mine played softly.

"She's holding up," neighbor Jacquelyn Fleming, 52, said of the aunt. "(Today) is a different story. That's the funeral.

"That's when the coffin closes."

• • •

The investigation into Paris' death also continued on Good Friday.

Paris was shot, police say, when her house was shot more than 50 times by semiautomatic rifles by members of a local gang. The bullets were meant for the member of a rival gang spending the night at her Bartlett Park home, police say.

Officers went door-to-door Thursday in the neighborhoods of those feuding gangs, asking for more information, more cooperation from the community.

They also raided two drug houses and arrested five people.

Three suspects, a 19-year-old and two 18-year-olds, have been arrested in connection with the 8-year-old's murder. The role of another 19-year-old was still being determined.

Only one suspect has been accused of actually firing a gun, but police say there were multiple shooters.

Police admitted that they hadn't yet connected all the dots in the little girl's murder. But they connected a few more on Friday.

"It was a busy day," said St. Petersburg police Maj. Mike Puetz, "but a good day."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Anyone with information about the murder investigation is asked to call the tip line at (727) 892-5000 or they can text police at (727) 420-8911.

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Anyone with information about the murder investigation was asked to call the tip line at (727) 892-5000 or text police at (727) 420-8911.

Hundreds march in St. Petersburg in memory of slain child 04/10/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2009 11:25pm]
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