'We don't know what she could've become:' Community mourns loss of Mariah Woods
Posted December 5, 2017 11:04 a.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 1:40 p.m. EDT
Jacksonville, N.C. — A community group in Onslow County gathered Tuesday night to mourn the death and celebrate the memory of Mariah Woods, the 3-year-old reported missing last week.
Since the discovery Saturday of remains believed to be the child in Shelter Creek along Shaw Highway in Pender County, a memorial of stuffed animals, balloons, cards and signs has been forming near Mariah's home.
The teddy bears at the memorial will go to Mariah's two brothers while all toys that remain will be donated to children in the Department of Social Services and to first responders.
Angela Wiles started the memorial on Saturday with a single sign by the side of the road.
"When the news broke Saturday morning, I just wanted to show her love and respect, so I went and put that sign together and brought it out on Saturday not having any idea. It's amazing, this community coming together," she said.
Wilds said she has received toys and letters for Mariah from as far away as Africa and the United Kingdom.
Many who attended the vigil also helped in the search for Mariah, hoping a candlelight vigil would never be necessary.
"We don't know what she could've become. She could've changed the world. She was robbed of that and I feel we were kind of robbed of it too," said one woman at the vigil. ""I think, with every parent, they can feel there's just a loss."
A funeral for Mariah will be held Wednesday with a public visitation at Jones Funeral Home from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Mariah's mother reported her missing on the morning of Monday, Nov. 27. After five full days of a search that included the Onslow County Sheriff's Office, the FBI and hundreds of local volunteers, authorities arrested Mariah's mother's boyfriend, Earl Kimrey, and charged him with concealing her death.
About 24 hours later, Sheriff Hans Miller said investigators recovered a body believed to be Mariah's. In a press conference Saturday afternoon, FBI officials said the search for the child had evolved into a "homicide investigation."
A medical examiner is expected to make the final determination if the remains found Saturday are Mariah. Onslow County District Attorney Ernie Lee said he did not know when the autopsy results would be released.
"This whole community has been on pins and needles hoping we would find her alive, and Saturday when (the news) broke, it devastated a lot of us," said Tisha Christy, a neighbor.
Miller says the goal now is to figure out exactly what happened to Mariah.
"As we go on, just this little girl, Mariah, she's on our mind, because that's who we're working for. We work for the victim," he said.
Community in mourning
Mariah weighed heavy on the minds of so many in the community, including Shannon Graves and her 4-year-old son, Gavin.
"I would hope that someone would care like that for my child if something like that was to ever happen. I can't imagine the pain the family must feel," Graves said.
"I'm hurt. Everybody is hurt around here. I called the aunt yesterday, and they were in tears. Grandma is crying," said resident Corey Humphrey.
"It's impacting our children," community member Anna Rust said. "Something so tragic has impacted our own children that are still here with us. We just have to hold onto our kids and watch over them."
District Attorney Ernie Lee called the search an extremely challenging and emotional week.
"This investigation continues," he said. "We'll be waiting for the results of the medical examiner's report and making some decisions at that time."
Mother's boyfriend charged
Investigators did not say what led them to suspect Kimrey or what evidence they have that Mariah is dead.
The arrest warrant issued for Kimrey said he obstructed justice by "removing Mariah Woods' body from the scene of her death and did conceal Mariah Woods' death and body, knowing that Mariah Woods died from unnatural causes. The defendant acted with deceit and intent to fraud."
Kimrey "secretly disposed of the dead child's body," the warrant said.
State records show Kimrey had previously been charged with a series of lower-level crimes dating to 2005. Kimrey's previous charges include larceny, assault and drunk and disorderly conduct, according to the state's online records.
Kimrey is a graduate of Orange High School in Hillsborough.
Mariah was living in a house with Kimrey and her mother, who was divorced from her father, Alex Woods.
Woods had filed court documents challenging that arrangement and, in those documents, alleged that there was abuse in the home.