ASBURY PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A 2-year-old New Jersey girl whose smile was so widely known among congregants that they dubbed her “the church baby” was laid to rest Monday, a week after she was tossed into a Monmouth County creek, still strapped into her car seat.
A nationwide manhunt was under way for her father, 27-year-old Arthur Morgan III, who was added this weekend as a featured fugitive on “America’s Most Wanted” website. He is charged with murdering her last week by leaving her in a creek in Shark River Park.
Three people carried Tierra Morgan-Glover’s tiny coffin from the Cathedral International of Asbury Park, while a minister followed with a large stuffed teddy bear.
During a videotaped eulogy, Bishop Donald Hilliard Jr. tried to comfort mourners.
“As she was placed into that creek, an angel caught her,” Hilliard said. “She did not suffer at all.”
Last week, Monmouth County Prosecutor Peter Warshaw said that the cause of death was determined to be homicidal violence, including submersion in water.
“This is an unspeakably awful tragedy,'” Warshaw said. “It appears to be senseless and without reason.”
Family members didn’t speak during the service, and they declined to talk with reporters gathered outside the church.
The girl’s mother, Imani Benton, was helped into the church, supported on either side by relatives. She clutched a bouquet of purple and white roses, which were later placed on the child’s 3-foot-long white casket. Tierra was wearing a white dress and had several gold bracelets on her wrist.
She never returned home from a court-approved visit with her father on Nov. 21. She was found the next day in her car seat, which was partially submerged in the creek.
Authorities say the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service are among several agencies searching for Tierra’s father. They believe Morgan fled the state and may have headed out West after Tierra was killed.
“He remains a fugitive from justice, and we are still looking for him,” said Christopher Gramiccioni, a spokesman for the Monmouth County prosecutor’s office.
Hundreds of mourners packed the church to hear clergy members recall the toddler whose pleasant disposition was known throughout the congregation.
“Some babies just know church,” said the Rev. Deniece Reid. “This baby knew church. She knew Jesus.”
The Rev. Bernadette Glover, the church’s executive pastor, compared Tierra to a fine cologne whose essence lingers in a room long after its bearer had gone.
“This beautiful child was an angel among us,” she told mourners. “We are all here today because we have been touched by an angel. Every life matters to God, no matter how short it is.”
An obituary prepared by the church gave the child’s full name as Tierra La’Shae Camaya Morgan-Glover, “a bright-eyed little girl with a warm smile.”
“Because of Tierra’s delightful personality, she soon became ‘The Church Baby’ at Cathedral International of Asbury Park,” the obituary said. “Tierra was a talented and advanced 2-year-old. She enjoyed singing, loved mathematics, and was always eager to learn.”
In his eulogy, Hilliard invoked the afterlife, promising mourners, “You will see your baby again.”
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