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Deacon Willie Sawyer, left, and deaconess Eloise Elliott Deacon Willie Sawyer, left, and deaconess Eloise Elliott, right, both of Abundant Life Ministries, comfort Mary Angel of Detroit, Alex Michael Cervantes’ paternal grandmother. She was accompanied Tuesday by her son Luis Valera, 11, at the grave site.
Deacon Willie Sawyer, left, and deaconess Eloise Elliott, right, both of Abundant Life Ministries, comfort Mary Angel of Detroit, Alex Michael Cervantes’ paternal grandmother. She was accompanied Tuesday by her son Luis Valera, 11, at the grave site.
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Published: Wednesday, 7/4/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

50 gather at rites for slain baby, offer comfort to family

BY CASEY SUMNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Two men approached the assembled company in silence, carrying the small white casket of Alex Michael Cervantes.

Family members grieved for the infant --a woman sitting in the front row covered her mouth and sobbed. A man wrapped his arm around her.

Others nearby wiped away tears and stood silently as Deacon Willie Sawyer of Abundant Life Ministries told the nearly 50 people at the funeral that the newborn was "now one of God's little angels."

The public service Tuesday at Ottawa Hills Memorial Park aimed to provide some closure for the assembled family of the infant boy, whose body was found April 13 in a freezer in an East Toledo home.

The Lucas County Coroner's Office ruled the death a homicide, determining that at about two days old, the boy was submerged in water and was strangled prior to being put into the freezer.

The child's parents, Kenisha Pruitt, 20, and Antonio Cervantes, 18, are held in the Lucas County Jail on charges related to the child's death.

Mr. Sawyer urged the community to speak up against child abuse.

"There are children out there being abused and children out there are suffering," he said. " … We cannot let them suffer by themselves. Let's not be quiet anymore. If you know someone is suffering, let us not be silent anymore."

After the deacon closed the services, a relative of Ms. Pruitt stood to leave, but he first bent down and kissed the top of the casket.

Mary Angel, Alex's paternal grandmother, came from Detroit after she heard about the service. "I'm glad they were supportive about the situation," she said, through tears, of the community members who organized the ceremony. "I'm glad the baby had closure."

Several local residents and businesses offered resources to make the service possible.

Delta resident Thomas J. Griesinger, 53, helped coordinate the donations, along with offering a burial plot in his family's possession at Ottawa Hills Memorial Park.

"The day I saw it on the news, I decided that the guy needed some place to be laid to rest," he said. "This child deserved to be buried in a dignified place."

Mr. Sawyer said he volunteered to conduct the service after being contacted by Mr. Griesinger.

"Mr. Griesinger approached me with such compassion for the little baby," he said. "It just says to me that we as a community need to draw together to protect our children."

Ms. Pruitt's family declined to comment as they left the service. The Cervantes family also declined to be interviewed, but they expressed their thanks to the community for the service and support.

Ms. Pruitt of 2631 Scottwood Ave. is charged with aggravated murder, abuse of a corpse, and tampering with evidence.

Her bail is set at $1.9 million; she is being held in the Lucas County jail pending an Aug. 6 trial.

Mr. Cervantes of 5324 Rector Dr. is charged with involuntary manslaughter, tampering with evidence, abuse of a corpse, and endangering children, and is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. He is being held in the county jail in lieu of $1 million bond.

Taylor Hammer, 18, of Toledo, said she went to the service because "Antonio is my best friend" and she wanted to show her support to the family. Another friend, Kelsey Riker, 18, also of Toledo, said she went to pay her respects.

Beyond friends and family, the public service also drew community members. Toledo Public Schools board member Larry Sykes said he came out of concern for issues of child abuse.

The Wick-Wisniewski Funeral Home, Toledo, and Ottawa Hills Memorial Park both provided burial services for the ceremony. Ken's flower shop donated the floral arrangement at the grave site.

Staff writer Taylor Dungjen contributed to this report.

Contact Casey Sumner at: csumner@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.



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