In memory of Janaya: 'That girl should be in dancing school, eating with us, having fun'

Coastians' sadness at Janaya's death unfolds

Sun HeraldJuly 18, 2014 

GULFPORT -- A slow but steady stream of people have been driving by a mobile home on Whitney Drive, many stopping to leave memorabilia, to pray or otherwise honor the memory of the abducted 5-year-old girl found dead in the vacant trailer.

A bank account to help her family has been set up at Hancock Bank. All branches of the bank are accepting contributions to The Benefit of Janaya Thompson.

Gulfport police have arrested two people of interest on unrelated charges while they continue a capital murder investigation into Janaya's disappearance and killing. Officials said Friday an autopsy showed she died of asphyxiation by strangulation.

An outpouring of emotion and support have drawn many to the Orange Grove neighborhood, beginning with the volunteers who'd helped search for the girl or participated in candlelight vigils Thursday night outside the mobile home and in front of Janaya's residence.

As a light rain fell Friday morning, Regius Nelson, 20, stood by himself in the middle of the road, looking at the trailer where Janaya's body was found.

"It's just wrong," he said before kneeling by the trailer and saying a short prayer. Stuffed animals, candles with religious symbols, heartfelt notes and other memorials have accumulated at both the trailer and the nearby apartment complex where Janaya lived with her family.

Janaya disappeared Wednesday night from The Palms apartments on Klein Road. A search dog found her body Thursday morning in the bathroom of the mobile home, which is just north of the apartments.

Perry Hartmann, who lives next door to the mobile home, said he watched people gather Thursday night for a candlelight vigil in front of it.

"I went outside and watched," he said. "I didn't want to intrude."

"My sliding glass door faces that home. I had a front-row seat to watching people come and go before they

took her body out.

"I've got grandkids and this really did scare me, I tell my grandkids they have to stay within my sight when they play outside. Sometimes I think I'm too paranoid.

"Now, I'm not so sure."

Elena Helm, who has lived across the street for 20 years, said it's a peaceful neighborhood in which kids often play outside together.

"That girl should be in dancing school, eating with us, having fun," Helm said.

Helm and Hartmann said they heard nothing out of the ordinary the night Janaya disappeared.

Tracy White, who lives around the corner, drove by with his toddler and two relatives and stopped his car, pausing to gaze at the memorial.

"I keep driving by to look," he said. "I just can't believe it happened."

Diana Maricich stopped by to place a pink Princess Parking Only cup at the growing memorial.

Like White, she didn't know Janaya or the child's family.

"It is just so sad," Maricich said, wiping tears from her eyes.

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