The 2-year-old girl from Lakehurst whose smile was so widely known among congregants that they dubbed her “the church baby” was laid to rest Monday, a week after she was tossed into a creek, still strapped into her car seat.

Dozens of mourners exited Cathedral International Church of Asbury Park, still emotional from the service. Mable Denise Junior was one of the extended family in attendance, however she notes that it wasn’t just family and friends that were hit hard by the death of the toddler.

“When I mention it to a friend of mine how I was affected by it [Tierra’s death] they say ‘Denise, everyone in the community is affected.”

Junior notes that the very notion of the death is still shocking to her, especially in the close knit community.

“You always hear it on the news, especially if you’re getting ready to go to work and something like this is happening in New York I will think “who does this?” I never thought that it would hit home.”

A nationwide manhunt was under way for her father, 27-year-old Arthur Morgan III, who was added this weekend as a featured fugitive on “America’s Most Wanted” website. He is charged with murdering her last week by leaving her in a park creek in Wall Township.

Many of family members and mourners declined to speak with reporters outside the church.

The girl’s mother, Imani Benton, was helped into the church, supported on either side by relatives. She held a bouquet of purple and white roses, which were later placed on Tierra’s white casket.

Junior called the service “beautiful”, saying though it provided some relief, the memory of Tierra is something that will still be with everyone.

“I mean we can only do so much, it’s still there with us, but we know she’s in a better place. She was touched by an angel. That’s all I can say.”

She never returned home from a court-approved visit with her father on Nov. 21. She was found the next day in her car seat, which was partially submerged in a creek in a park in Wall Township. Her cause of death was listed as homicidal violence.

Authorities say the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service are among several agencies searching for Tierra’s father. They believe Morgan fled the state and may have headed out West after Tierra was killed.

“He remains a fugitive from justice, and we are still looking for him,” said Christopher Gramiccioni, a spokesman for the Monmouth County prosecutor’s office.

 

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)