Hundreds mourn at funeral for 2 kids found in freezer

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Pallbearers bring out the caskets of Stoni Ann Blair and Stephen Gage Berry after a funeral service Monday, April 13, 2015. The bodies of the two children were found inside a freezer of a Detroit apartment March 24.

Detroit — Hundreds gathered at Greater Grace Temple on Monday to say goodbye to "Honey Bear" and "Little Man," and to pray their surviving brother and sister can lead normal lives after the horror they've lived through.

The bodies of the siblings, Stoni "Honey Bear" Blair, 13, and Stephen "Little Man" Berry, 9, were found inside a freezer March 24 by court deputies who were serving an eviction notice at the Detroit apartment where the brother and sister lived with two other siblings and their mother, Mitchelle Blair. Police say Blair tortured the children before killing them and placing them in the frozen tomb.

Blair, who prosecutors say also tortured the two surviving children, has been charged with several crimes, including first-degree murder.

"All four of these children were bright, beautiful and had so much potential," said Angela Gordon, the great-aunt who is caring for Blair's 17-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. "There's nothing we can do about Stoni and Stephen today. I think their spirits are going to set policies to come so that things like this will never happen again.

"(The two surviving children) are my immediate concerns," said Gordon, a retired Detroit Police child abuse investigator. "They're back in school. They love it. They're getting tutoring, both of them, and they're just loving children. I pray that they can get beyond this and have productive lives."

Family representative Michelle Barnett broke down sobbing as she described the difficulty relatives are having dealing with the tragedy.

"I can tell you all day how to visualize a rainbow in the sky but I can't begin to explain the hurt and pain," she said. "It's unreal. Thank you for each and every prayer, every donation, every encouraging word, every handshake. We need all the strength that you have to give."

Greater Grace Senior Pastor Charles Ellis III said he was angry at Blair when he first heard the news of her alleged crimes.

"As I thought about this horrific situation, my first thought was to point the finger," Ellis said. "But ... when you point one finger out, you've got some more pointing at yourself."

Stoni Ann Blair and Stephen Gage Berry

Ellis said the community failed the four children for not identifying the alleged abuse that went on for years inside the townhouse in the Martin Luther King apartments on Detroit's east side.

Court records show state Child Protective Services workers twice investigated Blair for abusing her children, and that the abuse was substantiated, although she was allowed to retain custody after attending mandatory classes. When doctors examined the two surviving children, they found them covered with welts and scars from repeated beatings.

There's plenty of blame to go around, Ellis said.

"It takes a village to raise a child ... but where was the village? When I think about the village, I have to start with myself. Where was I when this was going on? Where was the church?

"Where was the school system? Where were those organizations that are supposed to monitor? Where were Child Protective Services? Where were the mental health agents? Where is the state system?

"Where was the community? Those children didn't live on (an isolated) farm. Did the neighborhood become the 'hood'? We don't want to be busybodies or stick our noses where they don't belong, but we've got to put the 'neighbor' back in the neighborhood," Ellis said, drawing a rousing applause.

"The village failed those children, starting with me, and extending to you," Ellis said. "You are to blame. I'm to blame. We're all to blame. Somebody should've heard something. Somebody should've seen something. Somebody should've said something."

Of Stoni and Stephen, Ellis said: "Their book is closed. But there are two children who are still an open book. The village failed them, so it's up to us to be the wind beneath their wings.

Many of those in attendance were strangers, who felt compelled to support the grieving family.

"You have to support them" said Ferndale resident Beverly Harrison, 58. "They didn't have our support when they were alive."

News of the children's deaths deeply affected Southfield resident Karen Brocks, 37, who came to pay her respects.

"It really hit home," she said. "I have an 11-year-old. I feel for the family. My heart goes out to them."

Stoni and Stephen were buried in Mount Hope Memorial Gardens in Livonia.

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Jobs, safety forum

Detroit Police Commissioner Willie Burton has organized a panel of business leaders, elected officials, law enforcement officials and community activists who will address problems at the Martin Luther King apartment complex and the lack of jobs in the area.

The crime and economic forum begins at 5 p.m. Monday at St. John Presbyterian Church, 1961 E. Lafayette.