By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Loving, sorrowful tributes poured forth from family and friends at a funeral service held Monday in Winchester for a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide Wednesday.
Many of the remembrances came from about 15 classmates at Robert E. Aylor Middle School in Stephens City. They spoke of a high-spirited friend with a bright smile who was often the catalyst for hallway pranks and jokes they shared among themselves.
Through tears and somber reflections, they tried to forget the ordeal of last week and focus on happier times. Some spoke of the athletic prowess she demonstrated in recently earning a first-degree black belt in mixed martial arts; others cited her experience in scouting, where she earned 40 merit badges, or her willingness to defend and protect underdogs, who sometimes turned to her for a kind word and a good deed.
"I heard that (she) was gifted, but it seems that she was gifted not only with intellect but also with a certain charisma," said the Rev. Robert Throckmorton of Toms Brook United Methodist Church who presided at the service held at the South Chapel of Omps Funeral Home.
Throckmoton spoke of suicide "as one of the most difficult things for us to deal with and comprehend," and urged the audience not to be troubled by common religious teachings that condemn the act.
"Many have erred in saying suicide is an unforgivable sin," Throckmorton said, adding afterward he could find nothing in the Bible to support such a belief.
Those who know suicide victims frequently "struggle with guilt," Throckmorton said. "If I were to survey the room, I would guess many feel they could have done more."
He urged adults to offer teenagers support during moments of despair that might lead them to consider taking their own lives.
"Remind them of the finality of such an act, that around them there are support systems," he said.
Throckmorton told audience members they should take comfort in the memories they have of the girl they loved and admired as a sister, granddaughter and classmate, "to remember her as she lived, not as she died."
The service concluded outside the funeral home with the release of about a half dozen white doves from a metal carrier.
Several girls gathered together afterward spoke briefly to a reporter about comments last week from the girl's mother that school bullies tormented her daughter in the months leading up to her death. The girls agreed that their friend had been subjected to frequent bullying in the school and said they were certain it played an important role in her death.
Police and school officials said last week they had found no evidence that bullying contributed to the suicide.