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Family, friends say goodbye to slain boys found in S.C. river

By Mallory Simon, CNN
  • Mourners pack Orangeburg, South Carolina, church for boys' funeral
  • Their mother did not attend; she is in jail, charged in their slayings
  • Police say mother smothered her sons and then put their bodies in a river
  • The killings have shocked many in South Carolina town

Orangeburg, South Carolina (CNN) -- The mourners filed one by one past the small, open caskets holding the bodies of two South Carolina boys whose mother is accused of smothering them.

Ja'van and Devean Duley, ages 1 and 2, wore white tuxedos and clutched their favorite toy cars. Blue and white floral arrangements flanked their coffins.

The ushers wore white, too, as they escorted relatives Friday into St. Paul's Baptist Church in Orangeburg. As organ music swelled, the mourners sobbed and held their own children close.

Family members who won't get to see the two boys grow up said final goodbyes. Some, with tears streaming down their cheeks, reached in to touch them one last time, while others leaned in to place a kiss on their foreheads.

Video: Funeral for boys
Video: Mother accused of murder
Video: Killings reminiscent of Susan Smith case
Video: 911 tapes of children in river released
  • South Carolina
  • Crime

The boys' extended family filled eight church pews, but their mother, Shaquan Duley, was not present. She is in the county jail, accused of suffocating them, strapping their lifeless bodies into car seats and sinking the family car in the Edisto River.

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The service, dubbed a "Home Going Celebration," was filled with uplifting prayers and songs celebrating how the boys were now free. Friends and family members recited Scripture and asked God to help them through "times like this."

"As we celebrate the gift of life, we celebrate two lives that were lived so brief, but yet so awesome," one friend of the family said.

The funeral program showed photos of the boys and their families and described them both as "a blessing and joy" to family and friends.

"Devean was a bright-eyed, busy, smart two-year-old who always loved to be held and read to," according to the program. "He was big brother and helper to his other brother, Ja'van. He loved cartoons, playing in his backyard and eating breakfast."

Ja'van, the younger boy, was described as "an adorable little boy who loved to play with his big brother Devean and his big sister Saniya."

"He was an active, inquisitive toddler who loved to eat Cream of Wheat, pizza, hot dogs and Teddy Grahams."

Sarah Preister, the pastor's wife, said from the pulpit that she believes the children, if they could speak today, would echo the lyrics of a hymn: "God has smiled on me. He has set me free."

Church members and mourners stood in their pews, raised their hands into the air and praised God, all the while shaking their heads in disbelief and sorrow at the tragedy that brought them there.

Authorities said Duley, a 29-year-old unemployed, single mother, may have been fed up with criticism from her mother and that her increasing frustration could have led to the killings.

An emotional Nathaniel Rhodes, a deacon, said that instead of reading from his prepared speech he was going to go with his spirit and speak.

"There are a lot of questions about why it happened," he said, referring to the boys' deaths. "Only God knows why it happened."

But Rhodes urged the mourners to use the tragedy as a lesson. They should think back to days gone by, when neighbors and friends looked after one another and were always there when someone needed them.

"We have got to help each other, love thy neighbor," he said.

Gloria Sprinkle, with a tremble in her voice, spoke of two lives cut short as they were just beginning. "Your days were just enough for us to love y'all," she said. "We loved ya'll then, and we love you now."

Some mothers pulled their children close as Sprinkle shared her last words for the boys:

"Play on angels," she said.

A choir member urged the crowd to pray for the family when their nights get long and lonely during this difficult time.

"The whole nation knows there is a problem, but we must not point fingers," she said.

The Rev. Charcey N. Priester, who delivered the final words of comfort, said acceptance will bring peace.

"We can say I wouldn't have done that," he said, adding that nobody can know what he or she would have done until tested.

"Tragedy has a way of bringing us together, bringing the community together, the nation together," he said.

"The problem with most of us is that we don't forgive," he added. "Yes, it was wrong, but if Jesus can lay on a cross and say, 'Forgive people because they know not what they do,' then why can't we do the same?"

As the service drew to a close, he urged mourners to say goodnight to Devean and Ja'van. A lone child cried out, prompting some in the crowd to wail.

"Good night Devean and Ja'van," they shouted. And then the pallbearers carried the two white caskets out of the church and into idling hearses.

CNN's Sean O'Key contributed to this report.