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Hundreds gather at funeral for S.C. toddlers

Hundreds of mourners gather for funeral services for two South Carolina toddlers authorities say were killed by their mother and strapped into a car that rolled into a river.
Image: Doves released
Doves are released during the graveside service for Devean Duley, 2, and Ja'van Duley, 18 months, on Friday at Heavanly Rest Memorial Park in Orangeburg, S.C. Mary Ann Chastain / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hundreds of mourners struggling with the deaths of two South Carolina toddlers said goodbye Friday to the energetic, wide-eyed brothers who authorities say were killed by their mother.

People filed past the small white caskets containing the bodies of 2-year-old Devean Duley and 18-month-old Ja'van Duley, some dropping off stuffed animals, books and flowers and pausing for a moment of prayer. The boys were dressed in matching white tuxedos, their hands clasped across their chests.

"Good night from the land of the dying," Pastor Charcey Priester said before a crowd of about 400 mourners gathered at St. Paul Baptist Church in Orangeburg for the boys' funeral. "Good morning to the land of the living."

Divers pulled the boys' bodies from the North Edisto River on Monday morning. Their mother, Shaquan Duley, 29, was charged with two counts of murder after authorities say she confessed to smothering the boys. Investigators said she did so after a fight with her own mother, who Duley said badgered her about her failures as a parent and inability to provide for her family.

Duley is in jail awaiting a bail hearing and was not allowed to attend the service.

Helen Duley
Helen Duley places flowers on the caskets of her grandsons Devean Duley, 2, and Ja'van Duley, 18-months-old, after graveside services at their funeral on Friday, Aug. 20, 2010, at St. Paul Baptist Church in Orangeburg, S.C. The boys' 29-year-old mother, Shaquan Duley, was not allowed to attend. Investigators say she confessed to smothering her children Sunday night then staging a car accident to cover up the deaths. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)Mary Ann Chastain / FR170217 AP

After arguing with her mother Sunday night, authorities say, Duley left her daughter at the house and drove her two young sons to a motel, where she suffocated them with her hand. She then strapped them into their car seats, drove to a boat ramp some 10 miles away and rolled the car into the slow-moving water, investigators said.

Before Friday's hourlong service, mourners watched as a slideshow played pictures from the family's happier days. One photo showed Devean and Ja'van smiling with their sister, Saniya, on their grandfather's lap. In another, Shaquan Duley smiled as her children played at a playground.

A funeral program noted Devean loved cartoons and being read to. Ja'van loved to play and eat pizza and hot dogs.

On Friday, Helen Duley sat with her granddaughter as Nathaniel Rhodes, a deacon at St. Paul's, called on the congregation not to judge the boys' mother but to put their faith in God.

"There are a lot of questions of why it happened," Rhodes said. "Only God knows why it happened.

Relatives did not speak with reporters after the funeral service. Menia Lee, who has known the Duley family for three decades, said she's confused and saddened by the tragic events but thinks there is more to the story of what led up to the boys' deaths.

"It's been very difficult to comprehend all of the events around this tragic situation," Lee said. "I think there's a lot more that will probably come out and will let the world know that this is a very good family."

Dozens of people attended the boys' graveside service, where two white doves were released.