MONTEZUMA -- Family and friends overflowed from First Salem Baptist Church on Tuesday to say goodbye and celebrate the life of 12-year-old India Ja’Nai Collins of Kathleen.
The seventh-grader at Mossy Creek Middle School in Houston County was shot to death at her home July 3 before a fire was started inside. Her 17-year-old sister, Carmen Collins, is charged with murder and arson.
Mourners filled the pews, stood against the back and side walls and spilled into the foyer of the church, which a funeral usher said was capable of seating 400 people.
The about 1½-hour service included family reflections and tributes from those who knew India. Delores Felder, a former principal at Macon County Elementary School, where India once attended, was among those to pay tribute.
She described India as a friendly child who always had a big smile and hug for her wherever they met and who was a well-behaved student whom every teacher would love to have.
Also among those giving tribute was sixth-grade teacher Tracy Mixon.
“The one thing I remember most about India was her smile,” Mixon said.
Mark Torweigh, whose daughter, Nicole, was close to India, talked about how India was what every parent wants in a friend for their child and how the family loved her as if she were their own. When plans were made for family outings, those plans included India, he said.
Torweigh also offered encouragement to India’s parents, John and Angela Collins.
“You’re the reason India was what I remember most: happy,” he said.
The Rev. Paul A. McFarland, the church pastor, told the parents that just as India had been sheltered in their arms, she was now sheltered in the mighty and everlasting arms of Jesus.
“All that took place is a transition from your arms to Jesus’ arms. Nay Nay is all right,” McFarland said, using India’s nickname.
The pastor also encouraged those in attendance to keep Carmen in their prayers. The sisters were featured in photographs shared during a slideshow before the service and during the wake Monday at Meadows’ Oglethorpe Funeral Chapel. The sisters also smiled back from photos featured on the funeral service program.
The service was marked by the praise and worship of God in the face of loss and anguish.
The family had moved to Kathleen a couple of years ago from Macon County.
With her parents by her side, 12-year-old Aniya Hill talked about cousin India outside Monday’s wake service.
She shared stories of fun times together at the skating rink, of running through sprinklers on hot days and of sleepovers with two other girls in which they’d stay up late, play music and dance around in the living room. The girls would lip sync to favorite songs such as “Rise” by the McClain Sisters. The girls even gave themselves a group name, the KKG.
Aniya said she’ll miss most “her smile and her laugh. I love her.”
India was an honor roll and merit student throughout her school years in both Houston and Macon counties, her obituary stated.
Her awards include the President’s Award, David Perdue Top Bulldog Award and the Excellence in Achievement Award, her obituary stated. She was also a Girl Scout.
A small cheerleading doll was placed inside the white coffin, which had been positioned at the front of the sanctuary of the church for the viewing and funeral Tuesday. A cross wreath and other flower arrangements rested near the coffin. Interment was after the service at Champ Waters Cemetery on the church grounds located off Twin Church Road.