Hundreds of mourners came to memorialize slain Florida toddler Caylee Anthony in a music-filled service Tuesday, months after her disappearance and mother’s arrest drew national attention.
“There are days you don’t know what to say and these are one of these days,” said Pastor David Uth, who offered a “prayer of peace” for Casey Anthony, who was in the Orange County Jail less than a mile away, facing a murder charge in her daughter’s death. She has pleaded not guilty and claims a babysitter kidnapped Caylee.
The public service was broadcast live on local television from the First Baptist Church of Orlando. Images of Caylee flashed on a giant screen in front of the church sanctuary as a pianist played, “You Are My Sunshine” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
Casey Anthony could have asked for permission to watch the memorial on TV but didn’t, according to jail officials. The 22-year-old said in a statement read by her attorney that she missed Caylee “every day and every minute of every day.”
Thousands of mourners had been expected, but only several hundred people showed up, including many who never knew Caylee or her family. They included Jessica Smith, who drove 160 miles from West Palm Beach with a co-worker to attend, saying she felt compelled to be there “to say our prayers for her.”
“I’m a mother myself,” said Smith, 25, who has a son Caylee’s age. “It touches close to home.”
Caylee was 2 when she disappeared last summer, but her mother didn’t report her missing until a month later, saying she was looking for her. Her remains were found in December in woods near where she lived.
'I can't stop my parents'
Casey Anthony also said in her statement that she wished the service, which was arranged by her parents, Cindy and George Anthony, would have been private and not open to the public and media.
“I still don’t want a public event with cameras and everybody around for Caylee’s service, but I can’t stop my parents from doing what they want,” she said. “I truly hope that it will help them.”
Security was tight, given that the Anthony family had faced protesters at their house before the daughter was arrested. A dozen deputies were stationed at the church and mourners had to pass through a metal detector to get into the sanctuary. No protesters showed up.
Some mourners said they felt a connection to Caylee since they had been following the case since she was reported missing.
“I had hoped she would have been found alive,” said Justine Lorence, 22, who drove up with Smith from West Palm Beach. “I feel like I have to pay my respects to her because I’ve been watching this from the start.”
'Purest of hearts'
Anthony's parents, Cindy and George, scheduled the public event at the 5,000-seat First Baptist Church of Orlando.
Cindy Anthony asked in a eulogy published Sunday in The Orlando Sentinel that "those with only the purest of hearts and truly honorable intentions attend the service."
More on Caylee Anthony