With quiet tears and brave songs, the family and friends of 13-year-old LaTanya Remal Lassiter said goodbye to the slain eighth-grade student at her funeral yesterday and raised their voices in agreement when the minister exhorted parents to keep a closer watch on their children.
Lassiter was fatally stabbed Oct. 13 while taking a shortcut through the woods behind Woodson Junior High School in Northeast Washington on her way to the grocery store. But the minister's warning, coming after several recent attacks and attempted assaults on District schoolchildren, seemed aimed at all parents.
"When your child leaves the house, and she cannot tell you where's she's going, make her stay home," urged the Rev. Alfred A. Owens at the gathering at his Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northwest.
Owens' appeal to parents to be more watchful was answered with a chorus of "Amen" from those attending the emotional Pentecostal service.
Owens also urged everyone attending the service to form a task force to keep pressure on officials to catch the person responsible for "this vicious act . . . the work of the devil."
The congregation shouted its agreement when Owens speculated that law enforcement authorities might not try as hard to catch Lassister's killer as they would if the victim "was a rich, white suburban girl. . . . Because she's a little poor black girl, she may just be a statistic."
Lassiter's death is the most tragic of seven assaults or attempted attacks on city schoolchildren since mid-September.
One 10-year-old Southeast Washington girl was abducted and raped, three 5-year-olds at a Northwest elementary school were sexually assaulted or kidnaped, a 16-year-old Southeast high school student was accosted at gunpoint but later freed, and a 12-year-old school crossing guard was approached by a man who tried to lure her into his car.
Earlier this week, city and school officials announced plans to tighten security at the schools by requiring visitor badges and closely monitoring the hallways and school grounds. Officials also are talking about constructing fences along school grounds that border the woods.
There have been two arrests in connection with two of the incidents, but police still are looking for Lassiter's assailant. She had told her mother before she died that her attacker, who she said followed her and stabbed her in the chest, was a man she did not know.
More than 200 family members and friends attended yesterday's funeral, which was followed by burial at Harmony Memorial Park in Landover. The young girl's family, including her mother, a sister and four brothers, sat in the front pew in front of the white coffin and listened as condolences were read from the pulpit.
"She shall be missed among our halls at Woodson," said the school's principal, James Green.
Six of Lassiter's classmates at Woodson, members of the school choir, took part in the service, raising their soprano voices to sing, "He."
Owens' eulogy touched a range of emotions, from a strong call for justice to quiet words of spiritual comfort.
Before asking the congregation to file past the open coffin, Owens, a former high school teacher, had some words for the children:
"The greatest tribute to LaTanya is for you to say, 'Since LaTanya's gone and I'm still here, I'm going to be somebody.' "