ORANGEBURG | Hundreds celebrated the short lives of Devean and Ja’van Duley, the two toddlers allegedly smothered and driven into a river by their mother, as church elders urged the community to “look out for one another” and find peace in God.
“There was a time when I was a little boy, these things wouldn’t happen,” Deacon Nathaniel Rhodes told mourners at St. Paul Baptist Church. Neighbors looked out for neighbors, he said, and children were watched over by the community and disciplined when they got out of line without fear of reprisal.
“We’ve got to go back to the old times,” Rhodes said. “We can’t leave everything to God. We have to walk that Christian life together.” He added: “If we leave it up to the judiciary system, things aren’t going to change.”
His voice breaking, Rhodes said the horrific slayings reminded him of the biblical story of Job, “when he lost all his children.” Despite the adversity heaped upon him, Job held on to his faith and never cursed God.
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The Rev. Charcey N. Priester, St. Paul’s pastor, told the family and mourners that they must remain “anchored in the Lord,” accept the deaths in order to find peace and leave the question of why to God.
The bodies of the two toddlers that lay in open tiny white caskets at the front of the church are just shells, he said, and they are now in a better place.
“Thank God for their lives,” Priester said. “Thank God for their legacy, for they have brought a community together, they have brought a nation together.”
The 65-minute Homegoing Service was punctuated by joyous singing and uplifting prayers.
Prior to and at the beginning of the service, mourners filed by the identical caskets to pay their respects, their maternal grandmother, Helen Duley, leaning down for a few moments over each child.
The name of Shaquan Renee Duley, who allegedly smothered her children at a local motel Monday, strapped them into their car seats and drove the car into the North Edisto River, was never mentioned.
But her presence was felt in the dozens of family photographs projected onto the sanctuary’s audio-visual screens before the service. The youngsters were pictured singly and together in loving family scenes, playing with toys, little hats perched joyfully on their heads.
“That’s the one I used to keep,” said Barbara Adams, pointing to a photo of a smiling Devean. “He was a little itty, bitty baby.”
Adams worked for a day care then and regularly spoke with Shaquan Duley when she dropped off Devean, whom Adams knew by his middle name Christopher, and Duley’s oldest child, 5-year-old Saniya.
“She was a sweet person; she really was,” Adams said. “I don’t know what happened.”
Shaquan Duley has confessed to the crime, Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams said this week, telling deputies she staged the accident after arguing with her mother over the care of the children.
But the larger question of what drove the unemployed mother to such a shocking act perplexed and saddened mourners who attended the service.
Priester said that without a solid foundation of faith in God and Jesus Christ, none of us knows what sinful acts we may commit.
Taking his text from the Old Testament’s II Samuel 12, Priester recounted the story of King David, who committed adultery with Bathsheba and then killed her husband to cover up his act. As the child born out of their adultery lay sick, David wept and fasted and acknowledged his sin to God. When God refused to spare the child, David “gets up” to the amazement of his servants, telling them: “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
That is the way it must be with Devean and Ja’van, Priester said.
“It’s now time to say goodnight to Devean and Ja’van,” the pastor said. “Good night from the land of the dying. Good morning to the land of the living” in heaven.