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Friend: Shooting victim was trying to flee abuse

Story Highlights

• More than 200 attend funeral for CNN Center shooting victim
• Clara Lee Riddles, 22, is recalled for her love of singing
• Riddles was being stalked and abused by a former boyfriend, best friend says
• Arthur Lawrence Mann, who has a criminal record, is charged with her shooting
By Ann O'Neill
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RIVERDALE, Georgia (CNN) -- With tears in their eyes, and arms and voices raised in praise, more than 200 people sent Clara Riddles, the 22-year-old hotel worker shot last week at CNN Center, home to God on Wednesday.

It seemed fitting that the day was raw and gray as the stream of relatives, friends, neighbors, schoolmates, co-workers and strangers filed into the New Macedonia Baptist Church in this small town about 13 miles south of Atlanta, Georgia.

White-gloved ushers handed tissues to mourners who slowly passed the open casket to pay respects to the young woman who peacefully lay in a white suit with arms folded and eyelashes curled. Sprays of lilacs and ferns and bouquets of spring flowers surrounded the coffin.

As a choir swayed, women occasionally wailed above the gospel music and collapsed into the arms of friends. Men shouted "Amen!" and "Praise Jesus!"

One gospel song in particular, "In Harm's Way," carried added poignancy. In the program, it was dedicated as "Clara's song to Marilyn," her sister.

The lyrics might have been written about Jesus, but they seemed to fit the circumstances of Riddles' death: "Because of love you placed yourself in harm's way," the song went. "What kind of love would place itself in harm's way?"

'CiCi' loved music

Riddles was remembered as a bright child with a carefree heart and pretty smile. She sang in the church choir, and loved karaoke, rhythm and blues and "American Idol." She was just starting a life that was violently taken, allegedly by a former boyfriend who wouldn't take no for an answer.

"CiCi," as she was called, was a tot when her family joined the church 18 years ago, said the Rev. Gary T. Anderson. "I thought she was the prettiest, blackest child I had seen in my life," he recalled. "The question that is running in our minds is, why is this happening?"

"CiCi didn't have any earthly idea when she left her house that morning that she would never see her mother and father again," he said. "She didn't have any earthly idea that she would never see her sister again."

According to police, witnesses and published reports, former boyfriend Arthur Mann confronted Riddles the afternoon of April 3 outside the lobby of the Omni Hotel, which is part of the CNN Center complex.

The couple exchanged words, and he grabbed her by the hair as she rode down an escalator, witnesses said.

Witnesses said he then pulled out a handgun and fired three times, sending bullets into Riddles' shoulder and torso, and then into her head at close range. He was shot and wounded by a Turner Broadcasting security officer responding to the disturbance.

Wanted something more

Riddles had worked for about nine months at the hotel. She stocked the mini-bars in the rooms, but had bigger plans, friends said. She wanted to sing professionally, and if she couldn't, she wanted to work her way up through the ranks at the Omni.

Riddles met Mann when the two worked at a Burger King in Forest Park, Georgia.

Mann, 39, has been charged with Riddles' murder and remains at Grady Memorial Hospital. Background checks after the shooting revealed a long rap sheet in Florida that dates to his teen years, with a pair of arrests for auto theft.

Mann served prison stints totaling about eight years for a third-degree murder conviction that stemmed from a November 11, 1991, armed robbery. He also was convicted of having sex with a 17-year-old girl.

A police spokesman in Miami, Florida, said the underage sex charge appears to have come out of a domestic violence complaint involving a teenager with whom Mann had a child.

According to police records, the child was Mann's namesake and he allegedly punched the woman in the face when she wouldn't let him take the baby to the park.

The charge meant Mann had to register as a sex offender. When he did, last month, he used the home of Riddles' parents as his address.

A representative for Mann could not be reached. The Fulton County Public Defender's Office did not return telephone calls.

Abusive relationship alleged

Outside the church, Riddles' longtime friend, Nicki Gaut, 22, said Riddles told her Mann had been "abusing" her for the past year.

She said Riddles knew a little about his past -- something about a robbery, but nothing more -- and had been trying to pull away since they traveled together to Florida last year. The more she tried to pull away, the more abusive Mann became, "pushing her around a lot," and verbally and physically abusing her, Gaut said.

She said Riddles told her about the abuse, but she never saw any marks, and she never saw Mann hit her friend. Mann, meanwhile, had become like a member of Riddles' family.

Gaut and her mother, Susan, said they told Riddles she had to get away from Mann. Sometimes, Gaut said, she picked her friend up at work so she could avoid Mann, who Riddles had told her was calling constantly and stalking her.

Gaut said she last talked to Riddles on March 27, and her friend said she had told Mann she needed to be away from him. Riddles wanted to talk about Mann, Gaut said, but Gaut was at work and couldn't talk.

A call to stop the violence

Anderson urged mourners to look to God for answers, to live each moment as if it were their last. He also said it was time for the community to look out for its younger members, and for young people to stop violence, "get their act together" and accept God into their hearts -- a sentiment that was greeted by applause and cries of "Amen!"

Mourners included Riddles' parents, Jimmie and Shirley Riddles; her sister and brother, Marilyn and Thaddeus Jennings, and dozens of other relatives as well as friends, neighbors, classmates and coworkers from Burger King and the Omni Hotel.

Her family and close friends filled four pews. About 60 employees of the Omni Hotel attended, as well as three people who witnessed the shooting.

Half a dozen people gave brief testimonials, including an Omni executive who said Riddles was "a fantastic associate" who is missed. A childhood friend, who gave her name as Roseanne, tearfully said, "Clara, I'm sorry. I'm going to miss you." Another childhood friend and occasional coworker said, "Y'all listen to the radio and know Clara is jamming with y'all."

Slowly, as the service progressed, grief turned to hope and stomping, raise-the-roof praise. This was not a time for sadness, the pastor said. It was CiCi's home-going celebration.

His wife, Vanessa, told the mourners, "She wouldn't want us to be sad and crying. She'd want us to be up jumping and singing."

CNN's Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.

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Clara "CiCi" Riddles, 22, was gunned down last week at CNN Center by an ex-boyfriend, police say.



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