July 12, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Hundreds of mourners say goodbye to Inkster toddler

Inkster— KaMiya Gross would have turned three years old today.

Instead, hundreds of mourners sang her “Happy Birthday,” as they sobbed over her tiny white coffin with pink trim at the Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ.

KaMiya was killed July 1 when she was shot point blank in the head in front of an apartment in the 30000 block of Carlyle.

She was shot in front of her 34-year-old father, Kenneth French, and 12-year-old cousin, Chelsea Lancaster, who then were also shot. Police say the shooting may have been retaliation for another shooting at an after-hours club.

“There’s not much you can say in a situation like this, but thank God anyway. There is no earthly hurt that Heaven cannot heal,” KaMiya’s great-aunt Natalie Dixon said to the crowd. “I know it hurts like a knife. I feel it,too.”

At one point in the eulogy, KaMiya’s sobbing mother Erica Gross was escorted out of the church by her sisters.

The toddler’s slaying has shaken the entire community of Inkster and prompted the resignation of Inkster Police Chief Hilton Napoleon.

“It’s time for a change,” Pastor Isaac King said, telling hundreds of weeping family and friends he is “thoroughly disgusted.”

“Let me be honest with you, I think I know where the Devil’s house is,” he said. “If he doesn’t live in Inkster, he’s got to have a cottage here.”

Inkster, a city of 25,000 residents had 16 homicides last year, up from 12 in 2012.

Mayor Hillard Hampton spoke to the crowd of grievers pledging to push for a change to the violence in the community.

“This is the extended family of the community,” he said. “This community will not let this death be in vain. We shall come together and address these crimes and these issues that afflict our community.”

Two men have been charged in the slaying: Raphael Hern, 29, and Raymone Bernard Jackson, 24. Hern was arraigned July 5 on charges of first-degree murder, two counts of assault with intent to murder and habitual offender. Jackson was arraigned July 3 on charges of first-degree murder, torture and assault with intent to murder. Both men are being held without bond.

Hearn’s preliminary exam is scheduled for July 17 in the 22nd District Court, while Jackson’s preliminary exam is scheduled for July 16.

Michigan State Police, which handles homicide investigations for the financially-strapped Inkster Police Department, released a third suspect pending further investigation.

Lt. Mike Shaw of the Michigan State Police has said Jackson targeted KaMiya as a way to get back at her father.

“His thought process was that he was going to kill the child in front of this guy and then kill him afterward,” Shaw said last week. “So that would be the last thing he sees.”

Witnesses told police the gunman got out of a van and walked up to the toddler as she played and shot her point blank in the head before firing at her father and her cousin.

Hilton Napoleon’s resignation was effective Friday, a day after he submitted a letter expressing his concerns for the police department and announcing he was quitting. At a press conference, Napoleon, the brother of Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, told reporters the slaying of the toddler was what finally motivated him to leave.

In his time as top cop in one of the state’s more violent cities, the chief witnessed cuts to two-thirds of his police force, the termination of the department’s drug unit and outside law enforcement agencies taking over operations. Michigan State Police began assisting Inkster with calls for service in December 2012. Today, troopers patrol the city’s most dangerous locations in addition to handling all non-fatal shooting and homicide investigations.

Officers with both state and local police were on hand to escort the funeral procession to the burial site following the two-hour funeral.

Perhaps the most emotional part of the ceremony was when KaMiya’s older sister Kailey read a message she had written for her.

“You know you mean so much to me. The time you spent with me was full of laughter and happiness,” the young girl read. “You are in a better place. I’ll see you soon.

“I love you.”

(313) 222-2127

Family members and friends console Erica Gross, center, mother of two-year-old KaMiya LaShawn Gross. / Todd McInturf / The Detroit News
Pall bearers roll the casket of two-year-old KaMiya LaShawn Gross to the ... (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Two girls hug an unidentified woman after the casket of two-year-old ... (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
KaMiya LaShawn Gross (Photo courtesy Chapel of Chimes Funeral Home, West)