KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- About 300 mourners gathered Saturday for a memorial service to remember the little girl once known only as "Precious Doe."
"This experience brings us face to face with man's destruction toward man, face to face with evil," said the Rev. Wallace Hartsfield of the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church. "But life cannot be dismembered, covered up and put in a trash bag. That's why we're here."
The child's mother, Michelle M. Johnson, 30, and Johnson's husband, Harrell Johnson, 25, face one count each of second-degree murder and endangering the welfare of a child.
Police have said Harrell Johnson admitted that under the influence of alcohol and the hallucinogenic drug PCP, he became angry with Erica when she refused to go to bed, grabbed her, kicked her and threw her to the ground, leaving her unconscious. After she died, he said he used hedge clippers to sever her head.
"If I was a teenager today, in terms of what has happened to the child that gathers us here today, I would not even want to experiment with PCP," Hartsfield told the congregation. "Or with anything that could lead someone to..."
The pastor could not finish his sentence but held out his arms and made a chopping motion as though he were using hedge clippers.
Hartsfield's service was broken up several times with shouts and applause, and at one point everyone in the church shouted the child's name in unison.
Among those attending was Betty Brown, who raised Erica from infancy until April 2001 when her mother took her back. She said she was touched by the people in Kansas City who came to know the girl only after her death.
"My legs are rickety talking about it," Brown said.
When asked what she would seek for the people charged in Erica's death, Brown said she was torn.
"We have to go with the system," she said. "But if you want to know what's in my heart, they need to get what Erica got."