GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Several hundred people gathered to console each other and celebrate the life of Ja-Naya Makayla Thompson. She was laid to rest Tuesday, five days after her body was found in a vacant trailer.
During the service, Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said the tragedy has rocked the foundation of this community, but it has also united so many families.
Ja-Naya's parents sobbed with grief as they walked by past the casket holding their only child. The police and fire chiefs walked over and shared some private words of comfort with the family. The mayor told everyone how Ja-Naya has touched so many hearts.
"God called her back early, but she's going to leave a legacy that I think will be inspiration to us. We are heartbroken for you and with you, and Ja-Naya is all of our children. She is our child," said Mayor Billy Hewes.
The love for little Nae-Nae filled Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church as mourners came to celebrate her life. Nae-Nae's former teachers at Isiah Fredericks Head Start remembered a little girl who was giving, caring, and could always light up a room.
"She was a fashion statement. She would walk in the classroom 'Good morning Ms Calhoun', bling blinging from her neck all the way down to her feet. I would like to say to the family, I love you. We're in this together. And with God's strength we're going to make it," said Ossie Calhoun.
Everyone who spoke about Ja-Naya's tragic death said we may never understand why, but they also urged the family members to put their trust and faith in God.
"When God brings you out of this storm, you're going to be so much stronger," said a woman who told the crowd she also lost a child.
"This child was only five years old, did not know what a sin was. So you don't have to worry, she has her wings," said a minister.
To her family, Nae-Nae, their little angel, their princess is still smiling.
"I know there's not an easy way to say goodbye to such an incredible little girl, but I hope someday you can find solace in knowing that she is living in that castle she always dreamed about," said Angela Hinton, Ja-Naya's cousin.
"She was a joy to be around. She made everybody happy. I'm sad that it has took her death to unite us a family, as friends, as a community. We will miss you baby girl, but you will never be forgotten," she said.
Friends and strangers alike also went to support the family members and share in their grief.
Lula Ann McDonald said, "All my love goes out to the family. It's sad but. I hate it went that way but she's in God's hands now."
Whitney Picquet is a mother of three young children. "I just wanted to show them love. I don't know them like that but when I got news of what happened it just did something to my soul." said Picquet. "I don't ever want to have to bury my baby."
"Me being a mother and a grandmother and loving children. It's just hits home," said Cheryl Brown. "I don't think anything this horrible has ever really happened around here."
India Lyman is Ja-Naya's grandmother's first cousin who came from Richton for the funeral.
"It was a nice homegoing service," said Lyman. "Ja-Naya, she sparked a lot of hearts."
Clifton Walker Sr. said, "It was a good message not only to the family but it's also a good message for the community that God is our present help in time of trouble."
"I love to see the community come together as one and stand strong and be firm about a situation," said Phillip Moore, Ja-Naya's uncle.
People said it hurts to know someone could be so heartless as to murder an innocent child.
"You feel like you would bury your mother because they're older but a child at such a young age it's not natural," said Lewis. "You just don't want to do that so. So a person that hasn't done it they can't even start to understand the pain that a mother has to feel or a grandparent of burying a child at such a young age. "
Still people said they hoped this tragedy brings the community closer and encourages parents to look out for all the children's safety.
"We need to pay more attention to everybody. It takes a village I think," said Cheryl Brown. "If you see little kids running around at night especially that young we need to see what's going on. Try to help them. Get them home. Get them to a safe place."
"I pray that the parents will come together and be like it was when I was growing up where it takes a village to raise and child," said Walker. "When they see somebody's child not in a place where they need to be that they would go and talk to that child. Not scorn him but talk to he or she and them see some love in you and then others will not do things like this."
Some of Ja-Naya's relatives told us they are deeply touched by the amount of support they've received from the community.
During the eulogy, Rev. Willie C. Jones said he had this message for mourners. "In times like these we need a savior. Jesus Christ has declared that He will never leave us nor will he forsake us."
After the two-hour service, Ja-Naya was buried at Pine Ridge Gardens Cemetery in Gulfport.