JOLIET – Funeral services were held Friday for a 1-year-old girl who was found dead last week in her Joliet Township home.
About 450 mourners gathered at Prayer Tower Ministries in Joliet to pay respects to Sema'j Crosby. The girl's closed casket was displayed in front of a pulpit adorned with stuffed animals, pink ribbons and balloons. A large photo of the girl with the words "Sweet Angel" was displayed nearby.
A program handed out beforehand described the services as a "celebration of life," and between Bible readings a choir performed fervent gospel selections that brought many of the assembled to their feet. Several mourners wore white T-shirts and sweatshirts that said "Team Semaj" on the front and had an image of the girl portrayed as an angel on the back.
The Rev. Warren Dorris, whose first cousin is Sema'j's maternal grandmother, based his sermon upon Isaiah 11:6.
"The wolf shall lay down with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid ... and a little child shall lead them," Dorris said, offering the modern parallel of "the Republicans lying down with the Democrats."
Dorris said Sema'j will lead the community through her death by encouraging people to seek accountability from those who failed her, including the Department of Children and Family Services.
"DCFS, in my opinion, failed this family ... [the initials mean] Discounted Family Safety," Dorris said. "And if they failed this family, they failed other families."
An inspector from DCFS visited the house in the 300 block of Louis Road hours before Sema'j disappeared April 25, but reported no action was needed. Sema'j's body was found in the home more than 24 hours later, under a couch with no legs.
Investigators report the house was littered with trash and infested with bugs.
DCFS in March had opened two investigations of Sema'j's mother, Sheri Gordon, for allegations of neglect.
Department Director George Sheldon said in a state senate committee hearing Wednesday that his department is conducting a review to determine what it missed if anything, and how it did so.
He also told lawmakers he would release records if police investigations determine the girl died at the hands of a caregiver.
Will County sheriff's police said Gordon had been renting the house and living there with Sema'j, her three brothers and a number of squatters.
Sheriff's deputies responded to a 911 hang-up from the residence on Easter Sunday. There was no reported disturbance, but the officers provided some candy and toys for the children at the house
"And after DCFS, we need to hold the sheriff's [office] accountable," Dorris said. "You took bunnies to the children, saw people taking advantage of the mother and then walked away. You didn't do anything to help the mother. You didn't do anything to help this family."
Authorities have not said how Sema'j died. The Will County Coroner's Office expects additional forensic testing will take four to five weeks.
"[Sema'j] has led us to say, 'What can we do in our community?,'" Dorris said. "Sema'j has led us. Let us leave ... determined that we're not going to let any more families fall through the cracks."
Sema'j was interred Friday afternoon following the services at Elmhurst Cemetery in Joliet.