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Friends, family remember slain girl

Father thanks those who have given support

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LECANTO, Florida (CNN) -- Family and friends of Jessica Lunsford gathered Saturday for a public memorial service for the 9-year-old girl killed after being abducted from her home last month.

Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, thanked the community and all those who "worked so hard to help someone you didn't even know ..." and called for better protection of children.

"Children are our future," the victim's father said.

His daughter was last seen alive the night of February 23, when she went to bed after attending church. She was discovered missing the next morning.

John Evander Couey, 46, has been charged with capital murder, burglary with battery, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child younger than 12.

He will be asked to enter a plea at his arraignment, scheduled for April 11.

Authorities say Couey confessed to kidnapping and killing Jessica.

Citrus County Sheriff Jeff Dawsy and other sources said authorities believe the suspect entered the house, made his way to Jessica's room, covered her mouth, ordered her to remain quiet and forced her to leave.

"There was no forced entry. The residence was unsecured," Dawsy said of the home where Jessica lived with her grandparents and father.

Couey may have held Jessica captive for a day or two, investigators said.

Her body was found March 19 about 150 yards from her house in Homosassa, Florida, north of Tampa, buried behind the home of Couey's half-sister.

Couey -- a convicted sex offender with a 30-year criminal history -- is being held at the Citrus County jail, away from the general inmate population for his own safety.

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