Memorial Service For Kayleah Wilson

May 26, 2010 — 7 Comments

Yesterday I officiated at the memorial service for Kayleah Wilson, the 12-year-old girl whose body was found a week ago today in a ditch about a mile from our church building. It was the hardest memorial service I’ve ever done.

Kayleah was reported missing March 28 after she failed to show up at a friend’s birthday party. Police and volunteer searches combed the area around her neighborhood until her body was found last week.

The local coroner ruled her death a homicide.

Shortly after she went missing, our church was used as the headquarters for the search efforts.

Kayleah attended our church regularly several years ago and a few times this winter.

I don’t remember ever meeting her, but–since she went missing–I’ve gotten to know her through my interaction with her family, friends, and former Sunday School teachers here at Journey and I’ve been so blessed in what I’ve found.

Kayleah was a very special little girl and–in my message yesterday–I wanted people to get to know her.  For many people at the memorial service she was just a cute face of a little girl in the newspaper, on the evening news, and the fliers hanging around Greeley so it was important for me to make sure that they knew more about her likes/dislikes, her hobbies, her dreams, and her love for her family and friends.

The family decided to not allow any recording devices at the memorial service so there is no recording of my message.  I completely respect their decision.  Kayleah’s family is grieving a tragic loss and they need to be allowed to grieve in private.

But since my message was only heard by the 450 people in the hotel ballroom, I’ve decided to share my message on my blog in its entirety.  I have a few reasons for doing this.

First, bits and pieces of my message are appearing in articles on the event on the internet.  Most of the quotes are fine, but some of these snippets  are out of context or so concise there’s no way my larger message can be communicated.

Second, I want to provide my message here so that more of you can get to know Kayleah a little better.  In my research for my message I talked to her family, her friends, and former teachers.  It’s important to me and her family that she is remembered as a little girl and not just as the victim of a horrific crime.

Third, I want to share my message here so that it’s available for other ministers who might find themselves in a similar situation.  The moment after I agreed to officiate at Kayleah’s memorial service I began asking myself, “How do you write a funeral message for a twelve-year-old little girl who is tragically murdered?”  I went to the internet for ideas and found nothing.  I’m providing my message here so that–hopefully–it can be used by God to help more than the people who heard it yesterday.


A Memorial Service for Kayleah Wilson

Some things in life just don’t make sense.

We shouldn’t be here today.

Kayleah should be here.

She should be enjoying her first week of summer vacation with her friends Avalena, Courtney, Jocelyn, and Rosa from Brentwood Middle School.  She should be hanging out with her friend Jessica from church.

She should be laughing, she should be enjoying this beautiful day, and she should be listening to Celtic Thunder on her iPod.  Kayleah loved the group Celtic Thunder and especially the youngest member of the group: Damian McGinty.  She thought he was pretty cute.

No, we shouldn’t be here today.

This doesn’t make sense.

Kayleah should be safe at home with her Mom and brothers: Mackenzie and Jesse.

She should have made it to that birthday party.

Why are we here?

Why is Kayleah not here?

She should be home.

Some things in life just don’t make sense.

All we wanted since March 28th was for Kayleah to come home.

Many of you spent countless hours searching for her, posting fliers with her picture on them, praying for her, and doing everything within your power to bring Kayleah home.

Yet, this didn’t end the way we wanted.

This doesn’t make any sense.

As I prepared for this message, I found this poem by Maxwell Cornelius.  It speaks truth that can hold our hearts steady in difficult times.


Not now, but in the coming years,

It may be in the better land,

We’ll read the meaning of our tears,

And there, some time, we’ll understand.

We’ll catch the broken threads again,

And finish what we here began;

Heaven will the mysteries explain,

And then, ah, then, we’ll understand.

God knows the way, He holds the key,

He guides us with unerring hand;

Some time with tearless eyes we’ll see;

Yes, there, up there, we’ll understand.    [i]

I believe that, but down here on Earth it’s hard to understand why Kayleah was taken from us.

It doesn’t make sense, so I take comfort in the things that do make sense to me.

Let me affirm what makes sense to me so that you may be comforted too.

1. Love—Love makes sense.

In I Corinthians 13:4-8, the apostle Paul affirms that we can always count on love.

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails.

Today, I want to affirm that love never fails.

Your love for Kayleah never failed.

You prayed for her, you searched for her, and you longed for her to come home.

Kayleah’s family’s love never failed.  They loved her more than you and I can ever realize.

Kayleah’s love never failed.

Kayleah was a loving girl.

On her favorite hot pink hat she wore a button which read, “No place for hate.”

She loved playing GameCube and her favorite game was “Zelda” and she tried to collect all the Zelda games and was good at helping her friends to the next level if they couldn’t do it themselves.

She loved to laugh.  She sometimes would laugh so hard she snorted.

She enjoyed writing, drawing, and doing sign language.  Kayleah was slightly deaf so she was exposed to sign language at an early age.  April told me that Kayleah would often sign “I love you.” To which April would sign back, “I love you 2.”  To which Kayleah—who liked having the last word—would sign, “I love you 3.”

She loved to sit on the porch during thunder storms watching the lightning and listening to the thunder and after things calmed down she would play in the rain and in the puddles.  She liked playing in the snow, having snow ball fights and stuffing snow down your shirt.

She loved helping people.  Her family said she was like a little counselor who wanted to help anyone who needed help.

Her friend Patrick—who was really more like a brother to her—says that he spent many hours just talking with Kayleah and she always was so compassionate as they tried to solve life’s problems.  He said he’s going to miss that most of all.

She loved animals and hoped to one day become a vet.

She loved crafts and would spend hours making things for her friends and family.

She loved her mom, April, and her brothers, McKenzie and Jesse.  They meant the world to her.

She also loved talking to her dad Mike on the phone in California.

She also loved God.  She attended church on the morning of the day she disappeared.

Kayleah attended Journey Christian Church and Abundant Life Fellowship.  Her faith in God was very important to her.  You need to know that her faith in God never failed.

And His faith in her—and His love for her—never failed, either.

In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul wrote:

35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?….. 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God’s love never fails.

Bad things happen in this world.

In a fallen world things will fall on us.

I don’t blame God for Kayleah’s death.  When Kayleah died, God’s was the first tear to fall.  God grieved, too.

An evil person is responsible for her death and that person is going to have to answer to God for his or her actions against sweet Kayleah.

God loves Kayleah—and because He does—He will avenge her death.  The person who took her life will face justice.  We’re all praying that this happens soon, but—if it doesn’t happen in our lifetime—it will happen when that person stands before God.

Even so, remember the button she wore on her favorite hat, which read “No place for hate.”  And remember God’s instructions in Romans 12:

17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Yes, God loves Kayleah—and the rest of us—so He made a way for us to live with Him for all eternity.

John 3:16

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

When you die, where will you spend eternity?  My prayer is that you’ll spend it with Jesus in Heaven by making him your Lord and Savior.

A young pastor went home for lunch to find his wife had lost her life—tragically—at the hands of an intruder.  Later the grieving father appeared on television, saying that he had forgiven his wife’s murderer and asking others to find it in their hearts to do so too.

The funeral service was characterized by a sense of the victory of Easter because—like Kayleah—this pastor’s wife was a believer in Jesus.  In the bulletin the grieving husband wrote something that we all can relate to and something that we all must remember:

All of us have felt in these days something of the terrible misery of what it means to be human.  For a short time the mask was stripped away, and we caught a glimpse of the hell in human hearts-the hell of lovelessness, of hatred, of callousness to other people, of our ready willingness to consume each other. . . . But it is precisely at this point-at the funeral for a person whose life was heartlessly taken away–that Christianity, if it is to have any meaning at all, must begin to make sense. For it was to the very depths of this tragic human existence that God came personally in Jesus Christ.  And it was here that He redeemed us and our existence. . .

The mercy is this, that we who have faced our humanity in all its horror are now enabled through Christ to realize our humanity in all its glory, the glory of love.[ii]

Kayleah is living in the glory of God’s love right now and that helps me to make sense of this tragic situation.

Let me affirm something else—besides love—that makes sense to me right now.

And that’s hope.

2. Hope—Hope makes sense.

Kayleah was a hopeful girl.

She dreamed of a bright future as a veterinarian.

She also dreamed of going to Ireland one day with her Mom.

Kayleah dreamed of being used by God to bring hope to people.

I want you to know that Kayleah was more than the cute girl whose face you’ve come to recognize from the newspaper, TV news, and fliers hanging all over this town.

On Mother’s Day a couple of years ago, Kayleah framed a poem as a gift for her Mom.  Let me share the words of the poem with you.

On the street I saw a small girl cold and shivering in a thin dress, with little hope of a decent meal. I became angry and said to God: Why did you permit this? Why don’t you do something about it?  For awhile God said nothing. That night He replied quite suddenly: I certainly did something about it. I made you.[iii]

Kayleah believed that God made her to help people and bring hope to their lives.

Kayleah would want you to know that God made you to bring hope into this world, too.

I love being a part of this community.  This is a loving community, but it’s also a hopeful community.

Over the past two months, you have demonstrated an unfailing hope as you diligently searched for Kayleah.

Hope is a powerful force.  It drove many of you to the streets for Kayleah, it drove many of you to your knees for Kayleah, and it drove you here today to join with others who testify that there is more beyond.

We gather in emergency rooms, cancer wards, nursing homes and, yes, even at the funeral of a sweet 12-year-old girl and say: this is not the last word. This is not what we or the world was made for. This is not where things end![iv]

No, this is not the end for Kayleah; this is the beginning of an eternal life with her Heavenly Father in an amazing place.

We read about Kayleah’s new home in Revelation 21:1-5:

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Today we rejoice that Kayleah is finally home in Heaven where there is no more death, mourning, crying, or pain.

All we wanted since March 28th was for Kayleah to come home and now I want you to take comfort in knowing that Kayleah is finally home.

On behalf of Kayleah’s family, I want to say “Thank you.”

Friends, family, Police Chief Jerry Garner and your team, members of the FBI, people of Greeley and Northern Colorado–Thank you for searching for Kayleah.  Thank you for praying for Kayleah and her family.  Thank you for loving Kayleah.  Thank you for making her your little girl.  Thank you for not quitting.  Thank you for finally bringing Kayleah home.

She is home.

As I was preparing this message, I listened to a lot of music by the band Celtic Thunder because they were Kayleah’s favorite group and I wanted to draw inspiration from their music and feel close to her.

As I scanned the internet for their music I stumbled on a song entitled, “Take me Home.”

As I listened to the lyrics of this Celtic Thunder song again and again—and thought about Kayleah—it was almost as if I could hear her speaking these words to me.

As I close today, let me share the lyrics with you, and maybe they will help all of us to make sense of what has happened here.

Take me Home.

I sit here thinking
As the sun is sinkin’
Over the mountain
And the dry, dusty ground

As the night is falling
I start recalling
The nights
In my own home town

I see their faces
In familiar places
I hear the music
That be playing way back then

My heart rejoices
As I hear the voices
Calling me
Home again

Oh take me home
Home to the people
I left behind
Home to the love
I know I’ll find
Oh take me home

As the sky is burning
My mind is turning
To the cold winter evenings
By my own fire side

So far away now
But any day now
I’ll sail
On the morning tide

Oh take me home
Home to the people
I left behind
Home to the love
I know I’ll find
Oh take me home

Take me home
Far across the sea
Home is where I long to be

Oh take me home
Home to the people
I left behind
Home to the love
I know I’ll find
Oh take me home

Kayleah, we’re going to miss you but we are so glad that you’re finally home.  That’s all we ever wanted.


[ii] This illustration was adapted from this source:

[iii] The press is reporting that Kayleah wrote this poem, but I never said that.  The poem is well-known, but the author is unknown.

[iv] This paragraph was adapted from an illustration I found on this blog:


7 responses to Memorial Service For Kayleah Wilson


    As fine a message, as inspired a message, a message from the Lord, if I’ve ever heard one. Thanks for giving it a larger audience.

    johninfloridaa May 27, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Does anyone know why Kayleah ran away from her home?


    Some things that happen in life defy explanation. But Christians have the hope that, in the words of Maxwell Cornelius, “Sometime We’ll Understand.” Many things that are puzzles here will be unraveled in the heavenly kingdom. Our “why?” will get an answer then.

    Today is the 168th anniversary of Cornelius’s birth. And he seemed to face a life of unrelenting tragedy himself, so he knew whereof he spoke. If you’d like to read more about him, I invite you to check out my blog for today at Wordwise Hymns.


    A good article and surprisingly balanced from a mainstream media outlet!

    (Canon) Paul Williams August 13, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Here it is, 5 years later, and still little has changed, Internet-wise. Thank you for your words and wisdom. I find myself in the same situation (with a 14 year old girl) with the added difficulty of ministering to the family of her 20 year old nephew’s family (he completed suicide after murdering his young aunt). Your words are providing me some starting places, for which I am truly grateful.

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