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13-year-old Janessa's father holds memorial service at Rogers Middle School

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RIVERVIEW — About 100 people sat in the tile-floored multipurpose room Saturday at Rodgers Middle School where Janessa Shannon once sat as a student.

Assistant principal Meredith Scribner told the crowd, all dressed in the 13-year-old's favorite color — blue — that there were times during Janessa's time at Rodgers Middle that she would take the blame for things she didn't do to keep her friends out of trouble.

She was loyal, Scribner said, and didn't want to see those for whom she cared hurting.

But now those close to the teen are left with unanswered questions and immeasurable pain. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office announced last week that Janessa's body was found decomposing in a nature preserve not far from her father's Riverview home. She was reported missing July 3.

Few details about the homicide investigation have been released, and no arrests have been made.

"My prayers are for each and every one of you," Scribner told the crowd at the memorial service, "to allow yourself to grieve without letting this monstrous act destroy you."

Near the front of the stage next to a collage of photos of Janessa sat a turquoise-colored urn. Her father, Nahshon Shannon, sat in the front row wearing a butterfly pinned to his blue dress shirt. Despite his daughter's tomboyish charm, she loved butterflies, the family said.

Shannon walked up on stage and used the lectern to steady himself before speaking.

Janessa's 14th birthday, he said, would have been in about two weeks, on Aug. 8. He thought back to the day she was born. It was raining, he said, and he'd just worked a 16-hour day.

"I was so excited to see my daughter, my first child," he said. "There was nothing more beautiful in this world."

When he rested his eyes on her for the first time, he saw his face in hers. He joked she was his "clone."

Shannon and his family organized the memorial separate from a vigil Janessa's mother, Michelle Mosley, held a week ago in Manatee County. Mark Sanders, a relative of Shannon and an elder of the Jehovah's Witnesses, led the afternoon service.

Sanders led the group in prayer and read prepared remarks about the 13-year-old known for her striking and big brown eyes. She wanted to be a veterinarian. She loved cats and horses. She didn't care that she wasn't the best dancer and danced anyway. She sang, too, and had a crush on pop star Bruno Mars.

She was described as a precise speaker with a shy spirit.

"Her smile would radiate with happiness," Sanders said. "Her father, Nahson, made a comment that the hardest part is not physically not seeing her, but that she will never walk back through the door."

Janessa's father allowed reporters to attend the event, but he and his family declined interviews. Hillsborough County sheriff's officials have said the father stopped cooperating with them and has retained a lawyer.

After Saturday's service, Shannon sobbed in the arms of family members.

"I promised I'd be there to protect her, love her," he said while on stage. "My baby is not here. Someone took her from me."

He said he wanted her back, but knew that couldn't happen.

Instead, he cried, "I just want justice for my daughter."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

13-year-old Janessa's father holds memorial service at Rogers Middle School 07/22/17 [Last modified: Saturday, July 22, 2017 9:11pm] 


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