By Michael Davis
As the sun went down Thursday evening, more than 100 mourners gathered on and around the steps of Red Oak United Methodist Church to remember Joella Reaves.
As the pastor spoke a prayer, candles flickered in the cold air and a community grieved the loss of one of its children. Church members gave away coffee and hot chocolate to warm those who came to mourn.
Remembering 11-year-old Reaves, a classmate, Amber Greer, huddled next to her mother, Thelma. She wondered why Joella never told anyone if there was abuse in her home.
"It really hurts because she didn't want to tell anyone," Amber Greer said. She remembers Reaves from fifth grade as outgoing, nice and funny.
As the short service outside the church concluded, mourners continued to pour into the parking lot to pay their respects, even though traffic control officers told them the ceremony was over.
As the sky darkened, dozens milled about the parking lot huddled in coats and gloves and church members announced a service in Reaves' memory inside.
"What happens to any child anywhere happens to all of us," Pastor John W. Pace said.
"I just can't really grasp what really has happened here," Pace said. "This church sits right here at the door n the entrance to that subdivision. We don't ever want this to happen again in the community."
Reaves was found dead Dec. 1 in her Carriage Lake Drive home, just yards from the church. Her father and stepmother, Rodney and Charlott Reaves, had allegedly beaten her to death the week of Thanksgiving and now face charges in her death.
"I don't understand how parents can do this to children," said Tammy Morrison, the mother of a sixth-grader who went to school with Reaves.
In the wake of the girl's death, law enforcement officials are investigating whether administrators at Eagle's Landing Middle School knew of ongoing abuse in the Reaves home and failed to report it to the appropriate authorities. The school system has also launched its own investigation.
Joella Reaves came to live with her father and stepmother two years ago after having lived with an aunt in the years following her mother's death.
She was born following an affair between Rodney Reaves and Tanya Carter while both were in the Navy. Carter, her husband, and a son were killed in a fiery car accident in 1995. Joella was sent to live with an aunt in Maryland.
Rodney Reaves was granted custody of Joella earlier this year. Her funeral is today in South Carolina.