JACKSONVILLE. N.C. (WNCT) — The body found in a Pender County creek has been positively identified as Mariah Woods, according to the Onslow County District Attorney’s Office.
Authorities believed the body was that of the toddler’s, but did not confirm it until Wednesday afternoon, as community members gathered at a public visitation.
Hundreds entered the doors of the Jones Funeral Home in Jacksonville, many wearing pink in honor of Mariah and some bringing flowers.
“There’s a lot of emotions going on,” said Pam Brewer, who was paying her respects. “‘Sadness,’ ‘why,’ just things like that.”
It was a closed casket viewing, and the 3-year-old was surrounded by pink and white flowers.
A vigil for the three-year-old girl was held near her home Tuesday night, where organizer Linda Clendenin said she wants to remind people about the importance of speaking up for those who can’t.
“It just really, really resonated, and the sad part is that there are so many children out there that are missing and are exploited,” said Clendenin. “I said you know what, I am going to be an advocate and fill out the paperwork and do it because they need a voice. She needed a voice and she didn’t have one.”
People of all ages came together to pay their respects to young Mariah.
“Why did this have to happen to her?” said Kailei Sampson, 11. “Why did it happen to anyone?”
For many, the fact that Mariah was so young makes it hard to understand. A
mber Delacerda said, “As a community we’re strong. We come together no matter how it is but when it concerns a child that’s where it ends.”
Some led songs during the vigil.
Others chose to speak, like Carol Peebles.
“So many people have taken this little girl in,” Peebles said, adding that she felt called to speak, saying Mariah belonged to everyone. “This could have been your own child. And this is like when little Mariah came up missing and people came out searching for her and when we found out what had happened to her it’s like your own child.”
The tone was somber and hearts were heavy. But weighing on the minds of many was the confusion to how this could happen.
“It’s unbelievable to see something like this,” said 18-year-old Khristopher Smith.
“How in God’s name if that baby is that precious to you do you allow someone to hurt your baby? I don’t understand,” Peebles added.
Through a message of hope and hundreds of teddy bears, this community is remembering Mariah as one of their own. Smith added, “Fly high and we just need justice to be done for what has happened to her.”
A second vigil is scheduled for Sunday night at 5:30 p.m. at the intersection of Dawson Cabin Road and High Hill Road.
Mariah will also have a private burial reserved for only her family.