Bishop Michael Barringer told those attending Nichelle McKnight's funeral on Friday that they shouldn't say goodbye, they should say good night because "that means you'll see them later."
"When you come to a place (and) you don't know what to do, make God bigger than the pain you're feeling," Barringer said during the ceremony on Good Friday.
Family, friends and military officials from all walks of life attended McKnight's services at the Greater Love Christian Church on Lakeview Avenue and a ceremony with military honors at Dayton Memorial Park Cemetery in Vandalia.
"My heart is broken, both ways," said Kim Brown, who said she used to babysit McKnight and has known McKnight's mother for years. "My heart goes out to the family."
Dayton police said the 25-year-old former Air Force reservist was killed in late March and her body dumped in the Stillwater River before being found April 11. McKnight's 4-year-old son, Zaden, is presumed dead by police but his body has not been found.
"I just wanted to pay my respects to the family," said Shannon Clark, who was one grade behind McKnight at West Carrollton High School. "I haven't talked to her in a couple years, but thought it would be the best way to come and support her family."
The funeral included live gospel music. The Air Force presented a posthumous commendation medal to McKnight, and that drew a 35-second standing ovation. Barringer's eulogy was preached in a rousing fashion. "You're looking at a chapter and not a book," he said of McKnight's life. "This is just the close of a chapter, but it is not the book."
McKnight family friend Tyrone Guffey, a pastor, said: "Even with her laying here today, she's still being honored. That meant that that young lady must have done something."
In court documents, Dayton police theorize that McKnight and her son were killed in the basement of a house on Birchwood Avenue in Dayton. Police found blood and the shoes McKnight was wearing when she was reported missing in the home's basement, along with her driver's license, bank cards, and the Social Security cards for McKnight and Zaden, according to an affidavit.
The home on Birchwood is the residence of Tonisha Harris, 29, who was indicted Tuesday by a Montgomery County grand jury on charges related to McKnight's disappearance. Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office spokesman Greg Flannagan said the McKnight homicide is an open investigation and authorities are still processing evidence.
According to a Dayton police incident report, Harris allegedly stole money from McKnight's Chase bank account and made purchases at area stores using McKnight's credit card. The thefts were reportedly committed at the instruction of McKnight's boyfriend, 26-year-old Antwan Anderson, whom police said was also in a relationship with Harris.
McKnight disappeared March 25, nine days after discharging from the Air Force. Anderson was Dayton police's No. 1 suspect in the disappearance of McKnight and her son. However, Anderson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a police shootout after a pursuit with Dayton officers on April 7.
His death has made it difficult for police to find Zaden's body, so they solicited outside help. Thursday night, an official with Ohio Task Force 1 said the Dayton Police Department has contacted the organization about helping in the search for the boy.
Evan Schuman, a representative of the organization, said that while the task force has not committed any of its resources, he has put the department in touch with a contact that can get the department dogs that are used to detect human remains.
Meanwhile, McKnight's gravesite services included the playing of "Taps," a salute with the firing of weapons and military officials presenting her mother, Michelle Williams, with the American flag that had been draped across McKnight's coffin. The Veterans of Foreign Wars paid all funeral costs.
"We are following the VFW mission to honor the dead by serving the living," said Jack Brankamp of the Huber Heights VFW. "That's what we're doing right here."