On Wednesday, 4-year-old Katlin Violette was supposed to show off a cartwheel and forward roll she'd spent months practicing in her gymnastics class.
Katlin and her classmates were giddy about showing parents and grandparents their tumbling moves, said Corey Rush, public relations director for The Little Gym in Clayton.
Instead of celebrating Katlin's graduation to a more advanced gymnastics class, those who loved the dark-haired, dark-eyed girl will be steadying themselves to say goodbye. Katlin's funeral will be Thursday morning at Brown-Wynne Funeral Home in Cary.
Katlin's mother, Amber Violette, found her only child slain in the hallway of her Clayton home Friday evening. The child's head was severed from her body.
The girl's father, John Patrick Violette, 37, is charged with her murder. U.S. Marshals tracked him to a hotel in Washington, D.C., where he is now in jail, awaiting extradition to Johnston County. Police aren't yet sure what went wrong Friday on a day that had been set aside for "daddy-daughter" bonding.
"Right now, there are no special words that I can say to relieve any of the confusion or pain that any of us are experiencing," said Amber Violette, who visited her home Sunday for the first time since Friday. Violette choked back sobs in a brief phone conversation as she tried to explain just how beloved Katlin was.
Outside the Violettes' white and blue-trimmed home, a pile of stuffed animals and flowers mushroomed at the base of the family's mailbox. A dozen or so candles circled the collection of bears, baby dolls and a SpongeBob toy. Neighbor Samantha Narron, 18, tended to the arrangement, tucking in the limbs of wayward dolls as a light breeze ruffled the memorial.
"It's the least I can do," Narron said.
In the neighborhood
Neighbors and friends swapped stories Sunday about the well-mannered little girl who had just learned to ride a bike and chatted with her mother about Jesus being her best friend.
"What a waste of a beautiful little life," said Debbie Clark, Katlin's day care teacher.
Katlin first started spending days at Clark's day care last summer. She fit in immediately, fretting over the babies in the bunch and leading the older ones during recess excursions. Every Monday, Clark said, Katlin would be singing a new song she had learned in Sunday school at Colonial Baptist Church in Cary. Lately, though, she'd been hung up on "It's a Small World" after a summer vacation to Disneyland in California, Clark said. She had memorized every word.
In the sloping streets of her family's neighborhood, Katlin waved at neighbors and showed off her artwork from preschool.
"She'd come over to visit my kitties and would always bring some sort of project, glitter-covered paper that she was so proud of," neighbor Lori McCreary said.
Katlin stashed her art projects in a plastic storage container she got for Christmas. It was her favorite gift by far, Clark said, topping the big-girl bike she also got.
Tending to others
Even at such a young age, Katlin hurt for other people's sufferings. Amber Violette said her daughter taught her "the gift of compassion."
Last year, Clark, the day care teacher, took her flock of five on a backyard nature excursion. A pine cone pricked Clark's finger, drawing a droplet of blood. Katlin worried about Clark's wound, telling her teacher that she would snag a Band-Aid from her secret stash as soon as she got home. As promised, Katlin arrived the next day with a Dora the Explorer bandage and insisted on putting it around Clark's finger.
Clark is dreading Tuesday, when she must tell two of Katlin's playmates at day care that they won't be seeing their friend anymore.
Katlin has moved far, far away, Clark is preparing herself to say. To a place called Heavensville.