If death took only the deserving, the mourners agreed, then 15-year-old Ciara Jobes would not have been found lifeless on the kitchen floor of a public housing unit, emaciated to 73 pounds, her small body marred by bruises allegedly inflicted by a woman who was supposed to be caring for her.
Yet it happened, police said. And as the suspect, Satrina Roberts, 31, sat behind bars today, charged with murder and other crimes, the mourners rocked and sobbed in the pews of Mount Pleasant Church and Ministries here, filling the chapel with wails of "No! No! No!"
The injustices that Ciara endured in her short life and the brutality of her death have stunned this city. Her funeral drew not only 130 family members and friends, but also at least two women who never met the teenager.
One of them, Amy Slemmer, 39, drove from her home in Northwest Washington; the other, Pam Johnson, 38, came from Harford County.
"I just read about it," Johnson whispered, waiting for the service to start.
She sat in the last row of pews, tears on her cheeks. "She didn't even have a best friend. . . . I can't imagine being that alone in the world."
Ciara's mother, Jackie Cruse, had placed the girl in the care of a friend, Roberts, in 1998. About 1 p.m. Dec. 10, police said, Roberts dialed 911 to say that she had woken up and found Ciara in her room in physical distress.
Police said that when they arrived, the girl was dead on the kitchen floor near an open oven that had been turned on. An autopsy showed she was starved and had been beaten to death. Homicide Detective Marvin Sydnor said that authorities believe Ciara died earlier in the day and that Roberts put her in front of the oven in the futile hope that heat would reverse rigor mortis before the police arrived.
According to an affidavit filed in court by police, Roberts later gave them a taped statement in which she said she had routinely beaten Ciara with her hands, a belt, frayed electrical cords and other instruments. She is being held without bail, charged with first-degree murder, assault and child abuse.
Today, the mourners filed into the same church where funerals were held for Angela Dawson and six members of her family, killed in October when their Baltimore home was firebombed, allegedly by a drug dealer whom Dawson had tried to force out of her neighborhood. Now it was Ciara in a coffin.
"These are the signs of the times," the Rev. Willie E. Ray said.
Some of those who came to say goodbye wore full-length furs; others had on sneakers and nylon sweat suits. They sat before a closed white casket covered with carnations and lilies, topped by an ornamental white dove.
A half-hour before the service, Ciara's great-aunt Marion Holley picked up a pen to sign the guest book, paused a moment, then cried to God.
"Oh, Father! I am not ready to bury another one."
A guidance counselor at Southeast Middle School, where Ciara was a student last year, said teachers and others there suspected abuse and notified the state Department of Social Services. But the department said it received no such a report.
"They didn't respond to our call," said the counselor, Cassandra Cousins. "Because the child did not come in and complain of being beat or hit or hurt, there was nothing they could do."
Sue Fitzsimmons, a social services spokeswoman, said: "We have no records of abuse or neglect. We've had no report on Satrina Roberts."
Referring to the report that school officials contend they filed, Fitzsimmons said, "Do they have names and dates and all that?"
Cousins said she does not recall with whom she spoke at the department. "I'm trying to find" the name, she said. "I'm feverishly looking for it."
Ciara was born Aug. 17, 1987, and her mother named her for a soap opera character, said her father, Irvin Jobes, a bus drivers' assistant for the Baltimore school system. "I didn't see her much" when she was growing up, he said.
His was the first signature in the guest book at her funeral.
Ciara's was a life besieged by tragedy. When Ciara was a child, her baby sister was learning to walk when she placed her hand in a pile of cocaine. She then cupped the hand to her mouth and nose, said a grandmother, Iva Mae Cruse, and it killed her. "She still had the powder in her tiny fingernails."
Two summers ago, one of Ciara's cousins was slain. And in July, Ciara's mother died of an AIDS-related illness. Ciara -- by then in Roberts's care -- did not attend her mother's funeral.
Until her arrest last week, Roberts was receiving at least $500 a month from the Department of Social Services "to care for the child," said Sydnor, the homicide detective. Her rent, he said, was about $200 a month.
School officials said Ciara was a sweet child, but quiet and troubled. She "always liked to be the teacher's helper," said Nancy Schaffer, an administrative employee at Southeast Middle School. "She didn't really want to go home. She used to want to stay at school, do some homework, ask teachers if she needed help."
About a year ago, when Ciara was in eighth grade, teachers started noticing that something was wrong. She was not bathing as often. She was always hungry. "She was stealing food off of other people's trays," Schaffer said.
She came to school sporadically, and even during the winter, she wore only a windbreaker. Her classmates taunted her, said Johneika Gregory, 13, who lived two doors down from Ciara. No one today could say why, but Ciara often wore a wig to school. "People would pull her wig off her head and call her dirty," Johneika said.
"But she had good grades in school," added Tanya Brewer, 13, who lived across the street.
Ciara never showed up for ninth-grade this year. And police said neighbors told detectives that they had not seen her outside in months.