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Lighting Candles for Erica

The hurt could be felt in the flames of candlelight paying tribute to the memory of 14-year-old Erica Heather Smith.

At times, this hurt became vocal as about 100 family members and friends gathered Sunday night underneath a tent at the Christian Fellowship Church pavilion.

Smith's parents spoke and members of the church prayed, and there was singing, just as Erica used to do. The Ashburn girl was known for her singing voice and was part of the Christian Fellowship Church's bus ministry, a member of Greater Zion Baptist Church and involved in several church choirs. She would have been a 10th grader at Stone Bridge High School this year.

"We as a family feel that this was something that had to be done because of such sadness and grief we are going through," said Pete Smith, Erica's father, after the one-hour candlelight memorial service. He called her death a "horrible, senseless tragedy."

ERICA WAS REPORTED missing nearly a year ago on July 29 and found in a shallow grave on Aug. 9, the victim of a homicide incident still under investigation by the Sheriff's Office. Sheriff's investigators recently acquired new information on the case, information that is sensitive and cannot be released at this time. The information will require the investigators to re-interview several of the individuals who were contacted in the earlier part of the investigation. Additional investigative staff will assist the homicide investigators, as assigned by Sheriff Stephen Simpson.

Esther Schaeffer, director of life development on the church's ministry staff, prayed that the individual or individuals who are responsible for Erica's death will confess and that those who have information will come forward. "The answer is on the way," she said in her prayer.

Pete Smith said the family continues to suffer from not knowing what happened. "It's only fair that the public understand while it's unsolved, we are still grieving ... hurting because of this senseless loss," he said, adding that he wants to share with the public how important life is. "We believe God will work on the person or persons who have done this. We pray this is something that will happen soon."

Erica's mother Pam considered the memorial to be "touching and very emotional."

"Erica heard my message," she said, adding, "We still love her and miss her very dearly."

"It meant a lot. It means no one forgot her beautiful smile," said Ellen Thaxton, Erica's cousin who found herself to be more of an aunt to the girl. "She's still our angel."

"Erica we love you," her family and friends said as they lifted their candles up to her memory on the warm night.