Hundreds of people filled Penuelas’ streets walking behind a horse-drawn carriage adorned with pink and white balloons that carried the body of Jorelys Galarza Rivera to the cemetery.
More than a dozen construction workers removed their hard hats in unison as the carriage rolled past. A woman leaned against the roof of a car and cried.
At the cemetery in the town on the island’s Caribbean coast, friends and family gathered around the white casket and musicians began to play.
“Mother, don’t cry,” the singer wailed as 24-year-old Joselinne Rivera pressed her hands onto the top of her daughter’s coffin and then leaned down to kiss it.
The girl’s father, Ricardo Galarza, spoke to the crowd before his daughter was buried.
“I ask all mothers in this world to take care of their children,” he said. “This (death) is something that is extremely hard. Something that, quite frankly, I don’t think I’m going to overcome.”
Jorelys left this industrial town wedged between sea and mountains with her mother when she was 3 but had come back several times and was to spend Christmas in Penuelas with her father and extended family.
The child was last seen alive Dec. 2 when she left the playground at the apartment complex where the family was living in Canton, Georgia. Her body was found three days later in a trash bin. She had been beaten, sexually assaulted and stabbed. A 20-year-old maintenance worker at the apartments was arrested and is being held without bond on a murder charge.
Luz Muniz Perez, a 44-year-old resident of Penuelas and a distant member of the victim’s family, said whoever is responsible should receive the death penalty.
“People like that should not exist,” she said. “To do this atrocity to a girl, that is the mentality of a person who does not deserve to be on this planet.”
Hundreds of people also attended a memorial service for Jorelys in Georgia, but the family chose to bury her in Puerto Rico amid family, friends and mementos from her short life, such as her prized stuffed animals — a unicorn, Hello Kitty, a bear and a rag doll. A purple butterfly with gold glitter was painted on the side of her face.
The girls’ mother said she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy in their hometown.
“I’m grateful to everyone for their support,” Joselinne Rivera said as she accepted condolences earlier in the packed funeral home. “I wasn’t expecting it.”
People from all over the island and as far as New York and Orlando, Florida, came to pay respects, and they did not even know Jorelys, said the girl’s aunt, Miriam Rivera.
“I never thought people would join us in this moment of such great pain,” she said.
As the casket was lowered into the ground on a sweltering afternoon, people released doves and dozens of pink and white balloons as they wiped away tears and sweat. They then walked back to the center of town behind the empty horse-drawn carriage.
Jorelys’s father said he found solace in one thing: He kept his word about taking his daughter on a horse ride when she came to Puerto Rico.
“To you Jorelys, I say to you, I kept my promise,” he said, then bowed his head and cried.