‘Arms of an angel’: Tears, songs and prayers mark slain Kershaw teen’s funeral

jmonk@thestate.comMarch 2, 2014 

Briana Rabon

— More than 600 – and maybe closer to 1,000 – people attended the funeral of Briana Rabon at a rural Baptist church in a clearing in a vast pine forest Sunday.

And as much as the 23rd Psalm – printed on the back of the funeral program – or the assurances from the Rev. Dean Reynolds that Rabon was now in the House of the Lord, the words of the Sarah McLachlan haunting rock ballad touched the crowd’s heartstrings.

“There’s vultures and thieves at your back. . . . It’s easier to believe in this sweet madness, oh this glorious sadness that brings me to my knees . . . In the arms of an angel; may you find some comfort here.”

As McLachlan’s bittersweet tune played, many in the church – an overflow crowd was in a nearby building – wept loudly. Pictures of Rabon at the church showed a young woman with a smile full of life and promise.

Rabon’s killing last week and the arrest of a 21-year-old man who’d gotten out of prison early on probation embodied two themes familiar to those familiar with South Carolina’s criminal justice system.

The state has one of the highest rates of violence in the nation where men beat and kill women they know. Many repeat offenders — like the man now charged with murder in Rabon’s death — are often charged with other crimes after being set free on bond or probation.

But Sunday’s focus at Sawney’s Creek Baptist Church six miles east of Ridgeway was on heaven’s bounty and the age-old sorrow that the needless violent death of a young person like Rabon brings. She would have been 19 on March 27.

“We are here today because of the love that we have for Bri, and that we have for her family,” said the Rev. Reynolds to the mourners. “All of us have been deeply touched by the events of last week.”

“I want you know that because of a decision Bri made several years ago, on this day we can celebrate,” said Reynolds. Rabon had given her life to Jesus Christ and is now with Him, he said.

“We know where Bri is today,” he said. “Bri today is at home with her saviour. She is beginning to enjoy all that God has prepared for her.”

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews said Sunday evening that a murder warrant has been served on Stephen Ross Kelly — who, like Rabon, had attended Lugoff-Elgin High School. A bond hearing date had not been set yet. Kelly will likely have other charges lodged against him, Matthews said.

An autopsy determined Rabon was strangled, Kershaw County Coroner Johnny Fellers said Friday. Her body was found on a rural Elgin-area dirt road. SLED investigators have found key evidence linking Kelly to the scene, police say. There’s no evidence that Kelly and Rabon had a relationship.

Matthews has said Kelly was awaiting trial for first-offense criminal domestic violence because “he beat his girlfriend.”

After the 55-minute service, the crowd left the church, as the pianist played the recessional hymn, “Shall We Gather At the River,” sadly, softly but with a lilt of triumph.

A few minutes later, outside the church, Rabon was buried in the church cemetery. Hundreds stayed.

“There will be no more night, they will not need the light of the lamp, nor the light of sun,” said Reynolds, reading from the Book of Revelation at graveside, “for the Lord God will give them light, and they will reign for ever and ever. And Bri’s enjoying it all now. Made possible by Jesus. And today we can go away from here celebrating.”

Then, Reynolds played a final country hymn, Selah’s “When Love Was Slain,” whose lonely lyrics say, “This world is not my home, my home’s been made at heaven’s throne.”

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