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Perry mourns Sabrina Ray, a teen who 'fell through the cracks'


MOLLY LONGMAN   | The Des Moines Register

PERRY, Ia. — The pews of Perry’s First Christian Church were packed as Rev. Paul Burrow said 16-year-old Sabrina Ray had “fallen through the cracks” of the system.

Ray died on May 12 at her home in Perry. An autopsy showed the teen weighed 56 pounds and was severely malnourished, authorities said. 

Misty Ray, 40, and her husband, Marc Ray, 41, have been charged in relation to her death — Misty Ray entered a not guilty plea early this week, court records show. 

More than 100 people gathered Tuesday for a memorial service for Ray, many crying as they sang “Amazing Grace” on the teen’s behalf.

As Burrow delivered a sermon, he addressed the gravity of the incident.

“In those situations where we don’t have the answers that we’d like to have, we often fall back on sayings, on platitudes, so that we can at least say something,” Burrow said.

“We’ll say, ‘Oh, must have been the will of God.’ Or ‘God must have needed another angel.’ I mean, after all, who’s going to question God? But right from the start today, let’s make two things very clear: This is not the will of God. And God did not need another angel. This was a tragedy. God is weeping along with us this evening.”

Burrow acknowledged that it is too late to help Ray, but he emphasized that community members should be vigilant and come forward if they see something that resembles abuse or neglect.

Kim Seratt agrees.

Ray’s tragic end hit especially close to home for Seratt, of Dawson, whose grandchildren attended Ray of Sunshine daycare and who has adopted two children out of foster care.

She said she’d never met Sabrina, but noted that her daughter thought she was a healthy 7-year-old girl — not a starving 16-year-old.

Seratt said her own grandchildren would often come home from daycare with party treats, so she was shocked to hear that the child was emaciated.

“It really bothers me, because we’re supposed to look out for the kids,” Seratt said. “I cannot comprehend the tragedy of it all.”

But she says she hopes Sabrina’s story will touch Iowans and ignite change in the way people look after children around the state. 

“I hope people just start to watch. We’re always so busy in our day, going from one event to another, and we’re kind of self-absorbed. But we need to watch out for the children in our community … It shouldn’t hurt to be a child.”

Jacqueline Riekena agreed that she hoped Ray’s death would spark something in the community. Riekena hoped families would keep an eye out for children. She hoped the way the Department of Human Services handles abuse claims could be revitalized so no child could get lost in the system.

“No one knew her before May 12, but Sabrina Ray’s going to have a profound affect,” Riekena said.

Riekena thinks Perry in particular will be forever changed because of the tragedy. 

“How did this happen when everybody supposedly knows everybody?” Riekena lamented.

The Perry High School Treble Choir attended, singing “Letter from a Girl to the World.” People drove in from out of town. Members from the Perry Emergency Medical Services lined the back of the sanctuary in uniform.

Perry EMS Lt. Deanna Eiteman responded to the call on Ray and directed traffic outside of Ray’s home as police learned of what had happened to the little girl.

“It was very somber,” Eiteman said of the initial call. “Having lost a child, it brings it all back ... It hurts, you know? It’s a child.”

And as the community mourned the child's loss together, Burrow said he hoped Ray's death would mean something greater in the end.

“We need to put aside our reluctance to get involved,” Burrow said. “I’ve heard it said too many times: ‘She fell through the cracks.’ … But, you see, there is something that we can do. We need to pressure our state and federal officials to look out for our children. If there are children that have fell through the cracks, then we need to get out the mortar and we need to fill those cracks."

2017 May 24