1. Archive


People outside the church promise to protect children, seek justice and help her family.

ORANGE PARK- Hundreds of mourners - including many who never met Somer Thompson - said farewell Tuesday to the 7-year-old girl who body was found in a Georgia landfill after she vanished Oct. 19 on her way home from school.

As a hearse carried the child's casket away from the First Baptist Church of Orange Park, the throng outside released hundreds of purple balloons - her favorite color - into the sky.

"Bye, Somer," one person cried out. "God bless you."

At the funeral service, purple flowers adorned the wooden casket and filled the floral displays around the church. Her family wore purple ribbons.

Somer's parents, Diena and Samuel Thompson, who are estranged, sat across the aisle from each other during the funeral.

"My little girl is in heaven now. She doesn't have to deal with this wicked world we live in," Samuel Thompson said later.

"She could squeeze you and make you feel like there was no greater love in the world," he said.

At the service, Pastor David Tarkington called the child "a community hugger," who even hugged the crossing guard on the way to school each day.

"Somer was able to love greatly. She was also greatly loved," Tarkington said.

Nikki Morris, a 37-year-old mother of four from Middleburg, said outside the church that she hoped the funeral would bring some closure for the community.

She said she was especially touched by Somer's death, because she has an 8-year-old daughter. Morris said the incident makes her watch over her children.

"We keep them close and tell them we love them. I watch them a lot closer. They don't like it, but they understand it," she said.

The funeral procession went to Jacksonville Memory Gardens for a private graveside services for family and friends.

As the hearse and procession left the church, supporters of the family held banners urging justice for the girl. The Clay County Sheriff's Office has investigated about 1,700 leads, but has named no suspects or people of interest.

The mood outside the church was a mixture of despair, anger and determination.

One woman just stood, gazing at the hearse, and sobbed.

"I am so sorry. I am so sorry," she said, between gasps and tears. "I would trade places with her. I've had a life."

Others people said they had a new mission in life - to raise funds to support Somer's family, to find justice for Somer, to protect other children, to make sure her killer gets his due.

"This is our job now, our community's job, to band together in unity against crime," said Cheryl Biltmore of Orange Park.

Will Sabo and Mike Lowe, both of Orange Park, stood holding a banner promoting their new band, Rockers Against Sexual Predators.

They did not know Somer or her family, but her death touched them.

"Our life stopped last week," Sabo said. "It hit so close to home."

Meeting Somer's mother and hearing her determination to see justice for her daughter "lit a fire in all of us," Lowe said.

On Monday, Clay Sheriff Rick Beseler said investigators were continuing to work but were keeping a low profile until the services were over.

"As long as it takes we are going to find whoever did this," he said.

Information from the Associated Press and Florida Times Union was used in this report.