Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Public safety

Hundreds celebrate life of slain 9-year-old Tampa girl

RECOMMENDED READING


TAMPA

They gathered to celebrate life, not to dwell on death. So they talked about memories of a 9-year-old girl with an easy smile, a mischievous laugh and the talent of making herself unforgettable.

They did not want to mark her passing with talk of the kind of unfathomable evil that would have taken third-grader Felecia Williams from her family.

So on Saturday, they tempered tears with happy memories of a girl whose family called her Sugar Plum.

Several hundred people attended Felecia's memorial service at the Rock Church of God by Faith on E Henry Avenue, packing the church to overflowing a week after the Tampa girl's body was found amid rocks and mangroves near the Courtney Campbell Causeway in Clearwater.

Felecia seemingly vanished from Doral Oaks Apartments in Temple Terrace, where she had been taken by a family friend on May 16. Police have named Granville Ashanti Ritchie, 35, as a suspect in her death. Ritchie has not been charged in the slaying, but he is jailed in Pinellas County on unrelated drug and sex charges.

Police have not said how Felecia was killed.

The case has drawn intense public attention. TV news crews lined up outside the church. The family opened the funeral to the public, though they asked that reporters not record the memorial service or take notes inside the church.

Felecia's flower-laden casket arrived at the church on a white funeral carriage drawn by a single horse. Family, friends and even strangers followed the casket into the church as someone recited Psalm 23.

"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake."

"I can understand the pain of the family," Pastor Andrew Holder said during the more than two-hour service. "He can heal you in a time of trouble."

Felecia's mother, Felecia Demerson, 40, sat in the front row of the church with other family members. Demerson's 24-year-old daughter, Shakelia Givens, spoke briefly about Felecia, breaking down in tears.

"I love you, baby," she said as she looked down to her sister's casket.

At the front of the church, Temple Terrace detectives investigating Felecia's death and who had promised justice for her mother sat silently.

The service included singing and featured several pastors who told the family that Felecia was in the hands of the Lord, her afterlife just beginning. They said the girl would be with them always in spirit, and they would see her again.

A program of the service showed a picture of Felecia wearing a big yellow bow on her head. It was titled "Homegoing Celebration."

"Felecia was a nurturing spirit who loved kids and animals and would often be found at the nearby lake feeding the ducks and the birds," the program said. "She loved to ride her bicycle. She was a free spirit, and because of this, she never met a stranger."

At the end of the service, her casket was wheeled out to the waiting carriage for the short trip to Shady Grove Cemetery.

An engraving of two words on the side of the casket could be seen clearly in the sun: "Sugar Plum."

William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected]

     
Comments
Tampa husband gets life, wife 40 years for sexual assault on 7-year-old

Tampa husband gets life, wife 40 years for sexual assault on 7-year-old

TAMPA — The mother of a 7-year-old girl stood weeping in a federal courtroom, demanding lifelong prison sentences for the Tampa couple who sexually assaulted her daughter while the girl’s own father took videos and pictures. "I don’t want my child to...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Details emerge in suicide of Hernando school volunteer accused of sexual abuse

Details emerge in suicide of Hernando school volunteer accused of sexual abuse

A former Brooksville school volunteer accused of sexually assaulting teenage foreign exchange students who were under his care was found dead last week, a day before he was due in court on the charges.The body of Bruce McAllister was found at the bas...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Fire sends smoke through roof of Brass Flamingo adult club in Port Richey

Fire sends smoke through roof of Brass Flamingo adult club in Port Richey

PORT RICHEY — Crews from Pasco County fire rescue were battling a fire Wednesday morning that sent smoke pouring through the roof at the Brass Flamingo adult club, 9034 U.S. 19.The fire forced the closing of U.S. 19 but traffic was flowing again by 6...
Published: 11/22/17
Mountains beckon, but family sticks with beleaguered Seminole Heights for Thanksgiving this year

Mountains beckon, but family sticks with beleaguered Seminole Heights for Thanksgiving this year

TAMPA — Before the killings began, Bob and Vivian Fiallo envisioned having Thanksgiving at their North Carolina mountain getaway.Most years, the couple spends the holiday at their tidy, brick-faced home on North Olney Avenue, in the heart of Southeas...
Published: 11/22/17
Report: Pepin Academies director had alcohol in his system at time of fatal boating accident

Report: Pepin Academies director had alcohol in his system at time of fatal boating accident

CLEARWATER — The former Pepin Academies executive director who died in a watercraft and boat collision on Sept. 23 had a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the level at which the state presumes someone is impaired, a toxicology report showed. Just befo...
Published: 11/21/17
Pasco Deputies: Man climbs into bed with sleeping woman after multiple burglaries

Pasco Deputies: Man climbs into bed with sleeping woman after multiple burglaries

NEW PORT RICHEY — A man who ended a series of burglaries by breaking into the home of a sleeping woman, where he climbed into her bed, was arrested Monday afternoon, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said.Russel Smith, 42, now faces three felony char...
Published: 11/21/17

28-year-old man shot dead in Spring Hill home, deputies say

SPRING HILL — A 28-year-old man was shot and killed inside a Spring Hill home Monday night, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies responded to at least two separate 911 calls about 8:15 p.m., in which callers reported shots being...
Published: 11/21/17
Crime Stoppers, Straz Foundation still working out Seminole Heights reward money

Crime Stoppers, Straz Foundation still working out Seminole Heights reward money

TAMPA — You can collect $110,000 in reward money for information leading to an arrest in the Seminole Heights killings, but for now you’ll have to make two stops.The David A. Straz Foundation announced Monday it would contribute $10,000 to a reward f...
Published: 11/21/17

Crash involving bicyclist closes EB lanes on W Kennedy Boulevard in downtown Tampa

TAMPA — Eastbound lanes on W Kennedy Boulevard were reopened by 6:30 a.m. at S Parker Street in downtown Tampa after a bicyclist was struck early Tuesday morning.The crash occurred in front of the University of Tampa, according to broadcast reports.W...
Published: 11/21/17
In wake of killings, Seminole Heights hosts supper to thank first responders

In wake of killings, Seminole Heights hosts supper to thank first responders

TAMPAKenny Hoffa surprised everyone when he made the seven-hour drive from Charleston, S.C., to Tampa’s Seminole Heights to attend a dinner set up to thank police for working hard to solve a string of recent killings.For Hoffa, it was an easy decisio...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17