The little girl who had bounced from home to home in the early years of her short life was determined to put down roots.
After years in foster care, Jadianna Larsen learned to tend a garden. She started her own in Martin Luther King Jr. Village in south Sacramento, where she lived with her mother. She planted cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs. She watched them grow.
When they were ready, family said Friday, Jadianna would pluck them from the dirt and sell them to her neighbors.
To make peace with Jadianna’s untimely death, Pastor Bobby Deary told dozens of friends and family assembled at a celebration of her life at Zion Church in Jesus Christ to think of the 6-year-old as one of her beloved plants.
“God is also a gardener,” Deary said in the eulogy. “He’ll pluck something out of the earth that is pleasing and beautiful and good. He can’t take everything in the garden, because it’s not ready yet. But when he saw Jada hanging out there in the cornfield, he said, ‘This one. This one’s ready.’ ”
Jadianna died of a blow to the head, an autopsy revealed last month. The girl’s charred body was found May 28 in a remote field off a rural county road. Sheriff Richard L. Warren Jr. of Glenn County, where Jadianna’s body was found, said the girl suffered blunt-force trauma.
The memorial service Friday attempted to navigate mourners away from the circumstances of the child’s death and the unanswered questions family and friends say still tug at the back of their minds.
There were songs and music, funny stories and Jadianna’s smiling face on flowered wreaths, T-shirts and buttons. Community members danced in the aisles of the wood-paneled chapel. Children played in the grass outside.
“Look away from the tragedy and remember the baby,” Deary said. “Her bright smile, her energetic self. She was inspiring and loving. That baby would come in here when I needed a hug, and I thought I was hugging her, but she was hugging me.”
The positive atmosphere belied an overwhelming grief relatives say has been hard to shake in the nearly two months since the girl’s disappearance.
Juan Rivera, 25, was arrested on suspicion of killing Jadianna. He was the boyfriend of Jadianna’s mother, Tanecia Clark, and was supposed to be taking care of the child while Clark underwent mental health treatment, officials have said. Rivera told police he suffered a series of seizures that day and when he recovered hours later, Jadianna had disappeared.
Look away from the tragedy and remember the baby.
Pastor Bobby Deary
Rivera, who community members recall as warm and caring around Jadianna, is being held in Sacramento County jail without bail. His mother, Lisa Suzanne Burton, 46, is being held on suspicion of being an accessory after the fact, accused of helping her son cover up the crime. Both return to Sacramento Superior Court on Aug. 7.
“It’s been really hard not knowing why this happened, not knowing what went wrong,” said Lashae Jordan, who knew Jadianna from her time in foster care. “Just how a person could do something to a child like that, I don’t know.”
Clark, whose hair was dyed a bright purple ombré in honor of her slain daughter’s favorite color, made her way to the front of the church after the memorial service had ended. As others filed outside, Clark ran her fingers along the wood box containing her daughter’s remains. Jadianna’s father, Richard Larsen, stood at her side.
The two lifted the box and collapsed into each other, sobbing.
A procession of about 10 family members followed the grieving parents out the front gates of the church. Clark said she was in too much pain to talk. But in a program written to accompany the funeral service, she wrote: “Jadianna, I am so proud of everything you did. We had a tough journey in the beginning of our life together, but God helped us overcome that hurdle and I watched you blossom to be the beautiful little girl. You made me want to be the best mom for you, and I not only taught you life’s lessons, you were also my teacher. You will always be mommy’s ‘tunky’ and I am going to love you forever, and I will see you again, my beautiful angel.”
Larsen told The Sacramento Bee last month that he hadn’t seen his daughter since she was born.
He and Jadianna’s mother were homeless at the time. He had drug problems. Clark, he said, had “mental disabilities.” The baby was taken by Child Protective Services while still in the hospital and placed into foster care.
Clark regained custody of Jadianna after passing parenting classes and moved into Martin Luther King Jr. Village in south Sacramento, an apartment complex for disabled and formerly homeless people.
In the time since Jadianna’s death, family and friends said, she has turned to the church for support.
Marissa Lang: 916-321-1038; @Marissa_Jae