ELKHART — Kristyana Jackson’s smiling face looked out from photos and video clips over the hundreds gathered Saturday to celebrate her life.
Approximately 500 people were at Agape Missionary Baptist Church Saturday for the 7-year-old Elkhart girl’s funeral. The slideshow playing throughout the service showed Kristyana dancing, swimming, opening gifts, doing cartwheels and spending time with family and friends.
Kristyana died last Sunday at Memorial Hospital in South Bend after suffering a gunshot wound to the head during a home invasion robbery on Aug. 17. Her father, John Jackson, was treated and released at Elkhart General Hospital for gunshot wounds to his arm and back. The home invasion took place as Kristyana and her mother, Kimi, returned home from a high school football game.
The Rev. Dannell Brown of Agape noted early on that Saturday’s service was to be a celebration.
People had gathered “not for a funeral,” he said, “but for a home-going.”
She hadn’t died, he said later. “She has just left this Earth and moved to heaven. She has left her natural parents and moved to her spiritual parents.”
During the service, friends and family shared their memories of the Mary Daly Elementary School second-grader, who many remembered for her ever-smiling face.
“Her smile lit up my classroom every day,” said Carla Darr, Kristyana’s first-grade teacher.
She loved school, especially reading, but not math, Darr shared. Several in the crowd laughed when Darr noted how many of Kristyana’s stories included Justin Bieber.
Three of Kristyana’s classmates also shared their memories of her friendship, of playing with her on the playground and laughing together.
“It feels different since she’s gone,” one classmate shared, his voice catching on his words as he spoke.
Friends and family also noted, through tears, how Kristyana gladly shared hugs and kisses and was “a go-getter.” Some named the games she enjoyed playing or her favorite colors: pink and purple. A bouquet of flowers surrounded a soccer and basketball on top of the young girl’s casket, a rainbow of balloons arched over it all in the front of the church.
Along with remembering Kristyana, pastors also took time to reflect on the tragedy surrounding Kristyana’s death.
“Why did it happen? I have no answer,” Pastor Ray Caudill of Willowdale Church of Christ said.
“There are things in this life that happen that we simply do not know why they happen,” he said, noting later that “she has been spared the heartache, the disappointment... of this life.”
Brown, reverend at Agape, told the gathered crowd that “God didn’t do this ... Men working outside the will of God did this.”
“It matters not how long you live,” Brown said during his eulogy. “It matters how will you live.”
At one point in the service, Brown asked everyone to stand and clap in a standing ovation to Kristyana for the way she lived her life. The church’s sanctuary erupted in applause.
“She’s not lost,” Caudill said. “She’s safe in the arms of Jesus.”
Now, Brown said, “she’s got joy that this world could not give to her.”