It was a difficult and emotional day in Chesterfield as the 4-year-old killed by a falling tree was laid to rest. Hundreds gathered at The Pentecostals of Richmond to remember Shawn Wills, who died at Maymont Park during last week's storm.
The service lasted just over an hour. There were a lot of tears. Sobs could be heard throughout the sanctuary, but the Wills family asked their church to make this more of a celebration of young Shawn's life.
The church choir sang Shawn's favorite song, which carried a message meant to comfort his deeply religious family. The lyrics "God is fighting for us, God is on our side" echoed.
The Wills family had some specific requests for the service. They wanted to make it a non-traditional memorial with upbeat songs. Still, an overwhelming cloud of sadness hung over the sanctuary as people mourned a life taken too soon.
"God's will is not always what we want," Pastor Joe Forbush told the congregation.
As is tradition at this church, at one moment they spoke directly to Shawn to explain the void his death leaves.
"You must have been special to our Lord because he chose you to be with him at such a young age," First Lady Jo Forbush described. "His gain is our loss."
A sling protecting the injuries Shawn's father sustained served as an unavoidable reminder of the tree falling during what became a devastating storm.
"Hand-in-hand walking through the beautiful park and then things happen and things seem to be completely out of control," Pastor Forbush recalled.
Before the ceremony, John Wills never left his son's side. He solemnly stared down at the small casket. At one point, he asked for privacy to talk to the boy he called "his little man."
"It wasn't neglect on your part, John, nothing to do with your neglect in my mind," Pastor Forbush reassured the grieving father.
Now, not only his loved ones, but Shawn's extended church family are turning to the faith they rely on everyday to make sense of the senseless.
"I must be honest with you, kiddo, we are making every effort to be happy for you but it sure is hard," Jo Forbush said in her letter to Shawn.
Even Mayor Dwight Jones came to pay his respects. He spoke to the congregation, giving condolences from the city. He told the Wills family Richmonders share their pain.
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