|Terry Smith Sr. bows his head in prayer with others during Thursday night's memorial service.|
(Photos by Kristen Spoon)
Smith, whose 11-year-old son Terry Jr. was found murdered on the property of his family's Menifee home July 10, spoke briefly to a crowd including many of those local residents who had searched for three days after the boy was reported missing. Standing amid the serenity of the outdoor amphitheater at Lamb's Fellowship church in Lake Elsinore, Smith fought back tears as he thanked a community that came together during a time of crisis.
"I love each and every one of you," said Smith, who pawned his car for a plane ticket to travel here from West Virginia in hopes of claiming his son's body. "I've got more family here than I can count, and I know there are thousands more. Don't think that you'll ever be forgotten."
Although the crowd was not as large as some had expected, many in the crowd were in tears and hugging one another as pastor Gary Enniss led prayers and tried to help those in attendance deal with their emotions.
"You may be saying, 'Why did this happen?' Enniss said, "But what I want you to ask yourself is, 'God, what do you want me to learn from this?
Terry Jr's mother and Terry Sr's ex-wife, Shawna Smith, was not at the service. She attended a private memorial last weekend at Revival Church that Terry Sr. did not attend. The Riverside County Coroner's Office has not completed its report or released the body, and no decision in the battle for custody of the body between the parents has been announced.
Meanwhile, some of the crowd hoped this ceremony would quiet the accusations and bickering between local residents on social media outlets as suspicion over the circumstances surrounding the case grew. Skylor Atilano, Terry Jr's 16-year-old half brother, has been arrested on suspicion of the murder, but many have expressed the belief that there's more to the story.
"I came here in hopes that Terry Jr can begin to rest at peace," said a woman who asked not to be identified. "And I came for Terry Sr., whom I've gotten to know this week.
"All the controversy, that's what I'm tired of. We're not here on this planet to judge anybody. We're all entitled to our opinion, and I have my opinion about what happened. But all these accusations, this bashing of one another ... it just needs to be done."
This event might not provide closure for everyone, but as Terry Sr. filed up and down each row, hugging every person, it was obvious that at least he got to spend some special time with the people to whom he now feels a special bond.
|Photos decorate a table set up on the stage of an amphiteater where the memorial service was held.|