Family, friends, city officials and even strangers gathered together Saturday at the Mobile Baptist Sunlight District Auditorium in Prichard to celebrate the “home going” of 8-year-old Hiawayi Robinson, who was reported missing Sept. 16 and found murdered two days later. There have been no arrests in the case.
At the start of the funeral service, a musical prelude began as pallbearers entered the auditorium to present a gold crown for the young girl, whom many felt should be treated like a princess.
“This is a celebration,” Pastor Charlie York of Highpoint Baptist Church in Eight Mile said.
York, who presided over the funeral, noted the auditorium was already over capacity as visitors continued pouring in. Mourners lined the walls and packed into the back of the building, to find standing room only.
By noon, about 100 people remained outside, hoping to enter the service and pay final respects to Robinson.
Dan Anderson / Lagniappe
With every seat in the auditorium filled with attendees, the celebration service continued as children and teenagers played a major part of the ceremony.
“I was heartbroken, astonished, ashamed about what happened to this young lady,” eighth-grader Tristian Davis said.
Earning a standing ovation, Davis gave his sympathies to the Robinson family and reassured them that Hiawayi was now in a better place and would continue to live on through them in spirit.
“Now she’s an angel,” he said. “She watches over us today as we speak … we have her in our hearts.”
The Blount High School Elite Guard, Hiawayi Robinson Choir, Magnolia Baptist Church Praise Dance Team, students, friends and teachers were among the many who participated in remembering Robinson.
Tracy Walker, Robinson’s teacher at Collins-Rhodes Elementary School, remembered her by saying, “she had a way of getting her way” and used the words “persistent,” “determined” and “sneaky” to describe the third-grader’s headstrong yet jovial nature.
“Just that short time I knew her, I’m better off for that,” she said. “I will have that the rest of my life … I will never, ever forget Hiawayi.”
Veronica Coleman, principal of Collins-Rhodes Elementary School, also told stories to remember Robinson’s personality by saying Hiawayi loved to let her know who was in trouble on the school bus, even if it sometimes included Hiawayi herself.
“Even though she was 8-years-old, she was wise beyond her years,” she said. “ … There is no easy way for Collins-Rhodes Elementary to say goodbye. We can’t dwell on the sadness or keep asking the questions why. We will never find the reasons why such a smart, cheerful and beautiful child was taken from our lives at the age of eight. Instead, we should focus on how happy she made each and every one of us.”
Coleman also went on to read a poem entitled “An Angel In My Eyes,” written by a fifth grade teacher at Collins-Rhodes Elementary School.
The only member of Robinson’s family to speak publicly was her oldest brother Daquan Woodward. Woodard, who said he met Hiawayi when she was 6-years-old and he was 14, remembered buying potato chips and Laffy Taffy for his sister. He recalled times when they would stay up all night and watch movies.
“I just want my sister to know that I loved her dearly. And I cared about her. And she meant the world to me,” he said before pausing, battling tears.
After the crowd applauded and cheered for him, he continued, “Rest in peace, Hiawayi. I love you.”
A “prayer of comfort” was given by Dr. Harry Pugh of Central Missionary Baptist Church in Prichard, who praised the city and its surrounding communities for binding together during such a difficult time.
“You used this angel to pull strangers together,” he said. “You used this angel to pull communities together.”
According to a proclamation read by community advocate Kimberly Pettway, who created a GoFundMe account in support of the Robinson family, the city of Prichard has declared Sept. 27, 2014, as a day to honor Hiawayi Robinson.
A statement from Mayor Sandy Stimpson and the city of Mobile was also read during the service, saying “Hiawayi lived her life fearlessly and joyfully and encouraged those around her to do the same … the memory and spirit of Hiawayi will forever live on in those that she now watches over including her parents, grandparents, sister, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and the entire city of Mobile.”
Prichard Police Chaplain Patrick Munnerlyn, who has been a constant presence for the Robinson family since day one, closed out the service as pallbearers, who now wore angel wings, carried out Robinson’s white and gold casket.
As the service concluded, crowds of people gathered outside awaiting the funeral procession, where a horse-drawn carriage carried Robinson to her final resting place at Whispering Pines Cemetery.
Authorities have remained quiet about the investigation and have yet to release any new information regarding the case since Robinson’s body was found Sept. 18 near a vacant warehouse in Prichard.
“It is what it is,” said an attendee, who wished to remain anonymous. “I’m just waiting on them to do something about it now. Everybody is. This is a mystery.”
However, since Robinson was reported missing Sept. 16, the community has provided a continuous outpouring of support and a large memorial of balloons, stuffed animals, toys and prayers had been erected at the site where her body was discovered off Rebel Road.
Robinson is survived by her parents, Yosha Populus and Hiawatha Robinson, Jr.; her grandmothers, Brenda Populus and Murlean Robinson Howard; her sister, Janiya Miller; her brothers, Daquan Woodard and Henry Bloxton, Jr., and many other relatives, godparents and friends.