Many of those who gathered Monday to honor Grace Packer’s life never knew her.
But now, everyone knows the monstrous way her life ended.
Fourteen year old Packer, who went missing last July, was brutally murdered and dismembered by her adoptive family, according to police. Her adoptive mother’s boyfriend, Jacob Sullivan, has also been accused of raping Grace.
Under the cloud of these and other sordid details, many in Packer’s Abington community looked for a way not to lose sight of the person that she is.
“We just wanted to do something so that they would remember Gracie, the person, not just the horrific way she died,” said Andrea Adams, one of five mothers who organized the memorial service, held at New Life Presbyterian Church in Glenside, Pa.
Adams, along with four other mothers to students in the Abington School District, which Packer attended, have been busy. Using the crowdfunding site GoFundMe, they raised more than $12,000 as of Monday to put towards the memorial service and a nascent non-profit, called On Gracie’s Wings.
Attendees at ther service say they felt drawn to know more about Packer, and to contemplate how her abuse and death could have happened in their own community.
“I walked through the same doors and classes that she did,” said Abington High junior Megan Dockstrader. “She suffered a lot. And I’m out here and I’m ok.”
At the service, friends of Packer’s shared stories about her love of hip hop and country music, animals and the outdoors, and emphasized her happy nature.
“I wish I would have known her,” said freshman Cailyn Robinson, an Abington High freshman whose older brother had classes with Packer.
Packer’s biological mother, Rose Hunsicker, was visibly upset before, during and after the service. Speaking to reporters outside, she managed only few phrases before being overtaken by grief.
“Her memory and her smile will never fade away,” said Hunsicker.
A preliminary hearing for case against Sara Packer and Jacob Sullivan is scheduled for Friday, January 20th.
As more details of Grace Packer’s abuse emerge, organizers of the memorial service say they want to keep any more children from being abused.
People should know “what the warning signs are; if you see something, how to report things safely,” said Adams, ticking off lessons from the Abington Police Department about reporting child abuse. Local police and representatives from a foster agency spoke to the public at the VFW on Jenkintown Road following the memorial service.
To further that goal, part of On Gracie’s Wing’s mission, according to Adams, is to recruit more people to work as volunteer advocates for foster children, who act as another set of eyes as a child transitions into a foster household. Packer’s adoptive mother, Sara, was able to keep custody of Packer in spite of investigations into her husband David’s abuse of Grace and another young woman the family was fostering in 2006. David Packer was convicted in 2011.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.