Mourners of Elaina Steinfurth release balloons at the Lake Township Cemetery in Millbury, where the toddler was buried on Saturday. Elaina went missing on June 2.
Each step was deliberate.
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The little girl’s grandfather and father gripped the bars at the front of her small, white casket, slowly loading it into the back of a waiting silver hearse.
Terry Steinfurth, Sr., hugged his son, Terry Steinfurth, Jr., and embraced the other two pallbearers.
They all wept.
Inside the casket, which bore the girl’s image, were the remains of Elaina Steinfurth, an 18-month-old East Toledo girl who was last seen alive June 2.
For months police searched the neighborhood and surrounding area where the toddler, whose disappearance made national news, was last seen. Volunteers fanned out across the city and neighboring communities praying they might find the girl alive.
Hope was dashed on Sept. 5 when Toledo police again descended on 704 Federal St., where, inside a computer box, tucked into a corner among the rafters of an unattached garage, skeletal human remains were found.
Police have not said what led them back to the Federal Street home, the same place Elaina stayed with her sister and mother the night before she went missing.
The girl’s mother, Angela Steinfurth, and the mother’s ex-boyfriend, Steven King II, are in the Lucas County jail for obstructing justice, accused of lying to police during the course of the missing-persons investigation.
How the toddler died remains unclear. Autopsy results have not been released, pending a toxicology report.
Funeral goers filtered in and out of the Eggleston-Meinert & Pavley Funeral Home in Oregon during the hour-long service Saturday to smoke and cry on other mourners’ shoulders.
One woman hid in a corner, holding a bundle of white paper towels to her face to muffle her sobs and wipe away tears until another woman wrapped her in a hug.
Vehicles, many with “Justice For Elaina” decals or painted windows, filled the parking lot.
The casket of Elaina Steinfurth, 18 months, is carried to Lake Township Cemetery for burial. The girl’s remains were found in a garage on Sept. 5, some three months after she disappeared.
A little boy and a woman holding hands walked through a row of 10 motorcycles parked near the entrance, admiring each under the watchful eye of a man wearing dark sunglasses and a black leather vest.
Once the hearse door closed, a lengthy funeral procession wound its way down city streets and I-280 to the burial site in Lake Township Cemetery.
At Navarre Avenue and Coy Road, three women waited in a shopping-center parking lot to release balloons when the procession passed them.
“I just felt compelled. I wanted them to know they have our support,” said Sandy Kincaid of Toledo, who was there with her daughter, Rayvonna Kincaid, and Rayvonna's aide, Tiffany Jarosz of Rossford.
More supporters with bunches of balloons waited near vehicles parked outside the cemetery and honked as the procession passed.
The funeral was open to more than just family and friends. Strangers who never knew the toddler until her face appeared on television and in newspapers crowded around a blue tent that shaded the burial plot.
Standing back from the larger crowd was Mary Canales of Toledo.
“She’s an angel in heaven. Like the preacher said, there will be no growing up,” Ms. Canales said as she started to cry.
Talking about the girl’s death only makes her think about how much she loves her 18-month-old granddaughter, Maria Elena — pronounced like Elaina, she explained.
Before prayers were said or songs were sung, a dove was released to “commemorate Elaina’s spirit ascending to heaven.” One man, carrying a brown paper grocery bag, offered individual packets of tissue to the visitors.
After reciting the Lord’s Prayer, also said at all of the many vigils at the family’s East Toledo search party “headquarters,” dozens of balloons, shaped like flowers and hearts and princess crowns, were released.
“I feel that she was watching,” Ms. Kincaid said after the funeral. “I feel that she was there.”