Emotions ran high Friday as friends and family gathered to say their final goodbyes to 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, a girl remembered as a little ray of sunshine for her smile and jokes.
During a one-hour funeral at the Paxon Revival Center Church, Pastor Steve Dobbs gave voice to what several hundred in the sanctuary were feeling.
"I have four beautiful daughters and I hurt, too; I cry, too," Dobbs said from the pulpit. "Maybe, me being preacher, I'm not supposed to cry. Maybe on the TV cameras, they look, I'm not supposed to cry. I have a heart for a little 8-year-old girl that should not have died, that should not have died this way. But God is going to bring them justice and God is going to get the victory, and God is going to do what is right."
Dobbs went on, saying his church has never heard him get political, but was moved to speak out because "we need to have some changes in America."
"We want to blame the judge and we want to blame momma and we want to blame the cops and we want to blame the investigators, but we need to change the law, the law that allowed this man to go free," Dobbs said. "Don't let us lose another beautiful girl."
Cherish was kidnapped and killed one week ago. Donald Smith, a registered sex offender, was arrested and charged with murder in her death.
The funeral and the graveside service at Riverside Memorial Park that followed, was open to the public. After the service, Cherish's mother, Reyle, told Channel 4 she appreciated the community's support and donations.
Children's Pastor Renee King spoke of Cherish's faith and love, adding she struggled with how to tell the others of her death.
" It’s so heartbreaking that something so tragic can happen to such a precious little angel," King said. "You’ve got to have something to believe in, something to hope in, aspire to. You can't allow negative, hurtful and ugly to take over you. You can’t. You have to have something higher."
A small group from the children's ministry sang "Jesus Loves Me," inviting the congregation to join them.
Whether they knew the 8-year-old or not, many who attended they feel her family's pain and the pastor's outrage.
"It makes you feel down and low, but she’s in God’s hands," said Lawrence Calhoun. "I have cried.. but what can you say or do? God is in control."
"It’s unbelievable, and something has to be done," Owhnikka Cooper said. "It has to stop."