May 29, 2013 Edition

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Funeral goers watch as Rumblin' Around the Ridge bikers prepare to escort Sidney Randall's family to Black Rock for a private burial.

Sidney's service offered
time of grief, tribute and hope

John Bland

Members of the school and community, as well as the Ohio Chapter of Texas EquuSearch, came together Saturday afternoon for a farewell tribute to the life of Walnut Ridge 14-year-old Sidney Nicole Randall.

Whether funeral goers came to mourn Sidney or to show support to her family and friends, all were uplifted despite the tragic circumstances.

Sidney had last been seen on the night of Saturday, March 9, and her body was found in Black River on Saturday, May 18. Walnut Ridge Police Chief Richy Thatcher said his department is waiting on a final report from the Arkansas State Crime Lab on her cause of death.

The funeral service, with an estimated crowd of some 450 people, was held at the Walnut Ridge School's Sharum Gymnasium. Two groupings of chairs on the gym floor were reserved for family members, pallbearers, eighth-grade classmates and friends, as well as Walnut Ridge School faculty. Seating on both sides of the gym was available for others.

Attendees wore bright colors at the request of Sidney's family. The Rumblin' Around the Ridge bikers group wore T-shirts of pink, Sidney's favorite color.

A slideshow, with photos of Sidney's life, played as funeral goers took their seats. Bright ribbons and programs and cards with Sidney's photo were given to attendees. The cards stated, "The Family of Sidney Randall thanks you for your support during their time of mourning."

Speakers were Jake Guenrich, associate pastor of First Baptist Church, Glenn Smith, pastor of United Free Will Baptist Church, and David Rader, of Cincinnati, Ohio, representing Texas Equusearch, a renowned organization that helps with missing person cases.

Guenrich and Smith both presided at a candlelight vigil held just after Sidney's disappearance, and they have continued to minister to her family since that time. Rader and other members of the Ohio Chapter of Texas Equusearch spent a week here in March organizing and conducting search efforts.

"Amazing Grace" was played as family members entered from the rear of the gym.

"On days like these, the strong are made weak, and the most joyful are deeply saddened. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sidney's family and friends during these dark days," began Guenrich, the first speaker. On behalf of the family, he thanked everyone for the kindness, prayers and support. He shared Sidney's obituary and gave a prayer.

Texas Equusearch member David Rader told how mountain people joined the flatlanders to find Sidney, and in the process the community was made better.

Rader thanked Lawrence County Sheriff Jody Dotson and Walnut Ridge Police Chief Richy Thatcher and their teams for working together with their search team. "Everyone had the same goal, to bring Sidney home. We knew she would be found."

Rader also said it was noteworthy that Sidney's service was held on May 25, which is National Missing Children's Day.

"Holes in the Floor of Heaven" was one song played at the service. Another song was "Sissy's Song," by Alan Jackson, with these lyrics, "She flew up to Heaven on the wings of angels. By the clouds and stars and passed where no one sees. And she walks with Jesus and her loved ones waiting. And I know she's smiling saying, 'Don't worry 'bout me ...'"

"Let not your hearts be troubled," Pastor Glenn Smith read from John: Chapter 14.

On behalf of the family, Smith also praised "so many who need to be thanked today," including volunteers, searchers and donors for their time and prayers. "Now, finally, Sidney is home. Thank you," he said.

"This tragedy was so powerful in bringing this community together," he continued. "We serve a God who makes good follow tragedy ... Sidney didn't come home in the way we wanted ... but good follows evil. Sometimes we must wait."

"This one in a million tragedy may propel us to do something better," he said.

Pastor Smith had previously met with 10 or 12 friends of Sidney and shared several responses and conclusions from that discussion.

"Sidney was just a one in a million friend."

"She was the friend who didn't let her friends have a bad day."

"A rare friend with a beautiful smile."

Smith said, "Sidney used that beautiful smile to do what God intended us to do: help make other's lives happy."

He concluded his remarks by asking, "How are you responding to this nightmare?"

"God can take our helpless situation and make a miracle," Smith said. He added that keeping Sidney's smile and her love and care for one another is a way to keep her legacy alive.

"How do we overcome evil with good?" Smith said one answer is to "turn to Jesus."

"Let us ask God to help us turn this around to make this a better community," he concluded.

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