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Community Mourns Slain 1st-Grader

March 3, 2000

FLINT, Mich. (AP) _ In a child’s scrawl, the spelling not quite right, a poem propped on an easel near 6-year-old Kayla Rolland’s gold-trimmed white casket Friday remembered the slain first-grader.

``A smile so bright

``Eyes so light

``A pertty girl like you brought the sun’s daylight.″

Three days after Kayla was shot to death in her elementary school, allegedly by a 6-year-old classmate, hundreds of tearful mourners bearing flowers, cards and stuffed animals paid their respects during a daylong visitation Friday. A memorial service was planned Friday night.

Scott Messinger clutched a pink ribbon while holding his 2-year-old son tightly and handing out laminated cards with Kayla’s picture. He said he knows Kayla’s family.

``I’m not sure how they’re going to cope with this. I don’t know how I would,″ he said. ``They’re taking it hard. You’re not supposed to lose a little one this way.″

His eyes welling, Messinger bent down, kissed his son and told him softly, ``I love you.″

``She was too young,″ said Buffy Darling, one of the first to arrive. ``She didn’t even have a chance to grow up.

Kayla, in a red dress, lay in an open white casket with gold trim, a small doll of the TV character Barney beneath it. In her hands was a small card with a poem titled ``I’m free.″

A large poster board filled with signatures and messages from students at Kayla’s school stood near the casket. ``I’m sorry this happened,″ said many of the messages.

By midday, mourners had brought so many flowers that some had to be placed in another room.

Outside, someone left a small plastic pot with yellow flowers next to a row of shrubs. A handwritten index card taped to the pot carried a plea: ``Please pray for our children.″

Funeral director Donald Lada passed out pink ribbons, and said more than 7,000 already had been pinned to lapels and tied to radio antennas.

James Ray, superintendent of schools in Flint, said he came on behalf of the entire Flint school community. The district planned to donate books in Kayla’s memory to Buell Elementary School, which is in another district, in neighboring Mount Morris Township.

``I can’t imagine the pain they are going through,″ Ray said. ``It hits you in the pit of your stomach.″

Melissa Polacek, 20, came with 6-year-old cousin Kyle Cornelison. She said she brought the child so he would understand what happened.

``He said it was sad and we talked about it a lot. I think he understands better now,″ she said. ``It hit really close to home. It kind of makes you think, `Is this going to happen in our classrooms?‴

One mourner left near Kayla’s casket a millennium edition Barbie doll in its box, with Kayla’s photo on it. ``The child who shot little Kayla was only 6 himself, does he really understand what he’s just done?″ said a note with the memorial. ``I believe he did.″

The boy has told police that it was an accident and that he meant only to scare Kayla. The two are believed to have scuffled on the playground the day before, with one slapping the other.

No charges are expected against the boy, and the prosecutor _ as well as many in the community _ has urged compassion for a child they say was a victim of chaotic upbringing.

The boy’s father is in jail and his mother was evicted from her home a few weeks ago; the boy was staying with an uncle and another man when he found the loaded .32-caliber semiautomatic gun.

The other man, Jamelle James, 19, is accused of allowing the boy access to the gun _ even twirling it in front of him _ and was charged Thursday with involuntary manslaughter.

A search of the ramshackle one-story house turned up a bag of drugs, a loaded shotgun and ammunition. The boy’s father, Dedric Owens, said people at the house traded crack cocaine for guns.

The boy and his two siblings have been placed in the custody of their maternal aunt.

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