By Nelson Hernandez and Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 21, 2009; B01
There was a short time yesterday at the funeral of Delores and Ebony Dewitt when nothing could be heard amid the hundreds of people but the soft tones of an organ and the heaving sobs of a sister wracked by grief.
"My baby!" screamed Patricia Smith, Delores Dewitt's sister. "Oh, Lord, Lord, Lord! Why, why, why?" That, in its raw pain, was the question: Why were a mother, Delores, and daughter from a close-knit family, who believed in God and hard work, found dead Monday in a burned-out stolen car in the Largo area?
Bishop Willie O. Pittman of New Memorial Temple in Capitol Heights had been giving a eulogy searching for an answer to that question but stopped to console Smith. He stepped down from the dais to the floor, where a pair of urns holding the remains of Delores, 42, and Ebony, 20, were flanked by pictures of them.
"Sometimes you have to pull the rose out of the garden to make a bouquet," he said afterward.
"She was a beautiful person. She smiled; she laughed," Victoria Thompson, Delores's other sister, said of Ebony. "We miss our niece, but we are hopeful that justice will prevail."
The emotional service at the Lively Stone Church in Landover was an extension of the message that Rosa Mae Smith, 61, the family matriarch, had preached to the family members who had gathered at her Hyattsville home Thursday evening.
"There is no way to explain it," Smith told a reporter in her living room as seven family members looked on. "We pray to God to take us through it, not to explain it, and to wait for justice to be done," said Smith, a pastor at the True Gospel Temple in Landover.
Police had not discussed a motive or suspects in the case. They were investigating a possible connection to the unsolved slayings of another mother and daughter less than a mile away in January.
Smith and Delores's mother-in-law, Annie Hicks, urged Courtney Hicks, 17, Delores's surviving daughter, and dozens of other relatives to reflect on the remarkable ways in which Delores and Ebony had lived, not on the evil in the ways in which they might have died.
Delores, the eldest of six brothers and sisters, had grown up in South Carolina, fell in love in high school, worked her way through college to be a licensed practical nurse, remarried and was enrolled in college with her youngest daughter to complete her bachelor's in nursing.
"Mom's motto was always, 'Do what you got to do now, so you can do what you want to do later,' " Courtney said. She always put her children first, saving pennies to provide a stable home, they said.
Her brother Robert Smith remembered when she'd scraped together $3,000 years ago to buy a Nissan to ferry her kids around, and also when she stopped renting and bought the home in the 9700 block of Cedarhollow Lane in the Largo area where she and her daughters lived. Although both daughters had graduated from high school, they lived at home. Most nights, the three women were off in different directions between school and work, but they'd get together every few weeks to go shopping and get their hair done, Courtney said.
When it came to work, Delores was passionate about the elderly patients she spent nine years caring for at Bradford Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Clinton, her family and co-workers said.
She would get up and go to work even on days she felt sick or struggled with headaches, Smith said. A co-worker who spoke at the funeral said that residents would sometimes recognize her voice before those of their own family members and that she would frequently sing songs from a radio tuned to the gospel station at 104.1 FM.
Toward the end of the two-hour funeral, friends and family members sought solace in music. Someone requested that the choir sing "You're Gonna Make It."
Patricia Smith's relatives and friends supported her to her feet as the music swelled. "Let's do a dance for the Lord!" Pittman shouted.
Smith shook and thrashed and threw her head back as friends and family members cried out their support, and then just cried.