Trenton, NJ -- The nearly 200 people who crowded into Beauty Grove Primitive Baptist Church to attend the funeral of Tiara McClain had but one question on their minds: Why?
Why did God allow a 14-year-old girl to be plucked from her Trenton family and found several weeks later, floating in the Delaware & Raritan Canal? In a world ruled by a just and caring God, how could such a fate befall anyone so undeserving of it?
The question occupied everyone's mind so thoroughly that it crowded out remembrances of Tiara's life.
No one spoke about who Tiara McClain was, what she liked to do, who her favorite music group was, or what food she liked. Instead everyone just tried to make sense of her death.
"This is the kind of thing that makes you think there is no God," said one mourner to a friend as she entered the church on Race Street for the service. "If there was a God up there somewhere, I don't see how he could have let her die."
The Rev. Clemson Leach, pastor, tried to address the issue throughout the eulogy.
"Why do bad things happen to good people?" he asked. "They happen because there is evil in all of us. They happen because sometimes we are too proud to take divine instruction. They happen because we don't always think about consequences of our actions."
But, Leach went on to argue, those bad things are not always as bad as they seem. He said that Tiara's death did no harm to her soul if she accepted Jesus as her savior before she died. And he said her death had the beneficial effect of reminding people in the audience that they, too, should accept Jesus in order to ensure their passage into heaven, should misfortune befall them.
Finally, Leach said, the crowd should be sure that justice will be done, even if the police never catch the man or woman who killed Tiara.
"God saw whoever killed Tiara just as he saw Cain killing Abel," said Leach. "And just as God punished Cain, he will punish whoever did this. . . . Vengeance belongs to the Lord."
The audience whooped and hollered its support throughout the eulogy, but later some did not seem to accept Leach's account of evil in the world.
"It was a nice sermon," said one woman while she walked to Tiara's grave, "but I still don't see how God could have let her die."
Marie McClain, Tiara's mother, seemed more convinced.
"Everything happens for a reason," she said. "You may not understand what that reason is, but that doesn't mean you should question God. All I know is that I will always love my daughter, and I will always remember her."
After the service, Tiara was buried in Ewing Cemetery.
Tiara's family reported her missing on Jan. 30, 1998. Her body was found in the canal on March 14.
Family and friends of murder victim Tiara McClain celebrated what would have been her 17th birthday with a candlelight vigil at the waterway where her body was found in 1998.
As a cold rain fell from the evening sky, Tiara's mother, Marie McClain, cried out to her dead daughter.
"This is for you, Tiara. Happy birthday," Marie McClain said, releasing purple helium-filled balloons. "You will never be forgotten."
More than a dozen people joined the vigil, clutching candles and balloons and crying quietly.
Tiara, 14, of West Hanover Street, had been missing six weeks when her partially clothed body was found floating in the Delaware & Raritan Canal near Calhoun Street on March 14, 1998.
The teen, who was several months pregnant, had been strangled.
When her body was discovered, then-Deputy Police Chief Joe Constance vowed to bring her killer to justice.
But it's been three years and no arrests have been made.
Trenton Police Lt. Robert Tedder said the investigation has focused on one suspect from the beginning.
"We have a circumstantial case against him, but not quite enough evidence to charge him at this time," Tedder said. "The investigation is continuing, and we have recently come up with a few new angles to look into. Some cases are more difficult than others, but we never give up."
That brings no comfort to Marie McClain.
"I feel like the system has let us down," she said. "The police told me they'd keep in touch with me and they don't. When I call them they have an attitude with me. If I can't go to them, who can I go to?"
The thought of Tiara's killer walking free keeps McClain awake at night.
"They told me they got the main suspect, but where is he? Where is he?" she cried. "He's still walking free to kill again. It's not fair to anybody."
Police have declined to name the suspect, saying only that he was a juvenile at the time of the murder.
On the evening Tiara disappeared, she got a hair weave at a cousin's house nearby. Neighbors later saw her jumping rope.
"(The killer) didn't take just one, he took two," Marie McClain said. "He took my grandbaby who I never got to see."
After Tiara's disappearance, Marie McClain began scouring the city in search of her daughter. She circulated photos of Tiara, hoping someone had seen her.
"I waited and waited, hoping for the day she'd walk through the door. But that day never came," McClain said.
At the time Constance praised Marie McClain's efforts.
"The mother made a valiant effort to find her daughter," he said. "This is a nice girl from a nice family who did not deserve this."
Tiara's family and friends cried at the canal bank.
"I just really miss her and there's nothing I can really do about it," said her sister, LaShonda Ford.
"It's been real hard on us," said her aunt, Lisa McClain. "It's a burden because we never found her murderer. It's been three years and we haven't heard anything."
As the search for Tiara's killer got under way three years ago, the city police Superior Officers Association posted a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person who murdered her. Marie McClain's husband, Earl Bellamy, said the family is trying to raise additional money for the reward.
"We're hoping if we get some money it will help the case," Bellamy said. "A lot of times if you put up a big reward somebody who knows something will tell."