October 20, 2018
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‘How could this happen to one of our own?’ Marissa Kennedy’s hometown says goodbye

Kelly Marsh/ Times Herald-Record | BDN
Kelly Marsh/ Times Herald-Record | BDN
Pallbearers carry the coffin of Marissa Kennedy at her funeral in Newburgh, New York, on Saturday, March 10, 2018.

NEWBURGH, New York — She lay in a closed white casket in the same church where, a decade earlier, she had been baptized.

Marissa Kennedy’s family and friends gathered Friday for visitation and again Saturday morning for the 10-year-old’s funeral at St. Mary’s Church in Newburgh, New York, where she lived most of her life, and where her grandparents Roseann and Joe Kennedy still live.

“I don’t wish this experience on anybody,” Joe Kennedy said after the service.

[What we know about the life of the Maine child allegedly killed by her parents]

“Everybody is walking around with some kind of guilt, thinking, ‘What could I have done?’” said Rita Epstein, owner of Windsor Academy, where Marissa was a student in her younger years.

Epstein, a family friend, said Marissa continued to receive after-school care at the academy even after she began attending New Windsor public schools.

“None of us had a sense to feel uneasy or concerned. We all keep running it through our minds,” she said.

Marissa’s body was found in her family’s Stockton Springs condominium two weeks ago.

Her mother, Sharon Carrillo, and stepfather, Julio Carrillo, have been charged with depraved indifference murder for allegedly beating the child to death after months of physical abuse that a Maine prosecutor described as torture.

[Affidavit: Maine girl, 10, allegedly killed by parents suffered months of violent abuse]

But the horrific events that unfolded in Maine were a stark contrast from what Sharon’s and Marissa’s lives were like in New Windsor, many close to the family said as they gathered Friday and Saturday to mourn and honor Marissa’s life.

Hundreds of photos were displayed at the visitation Friday. They showed a smiling Marissa through the years, asleep in her car seat, playing putt-putt golf, wearing a graduation cap. Her grandparents, with whom she lived for the first few years of her life, stood next to their granddaughter’s casket, crying and fielding hugs from dozens of community members.

The Carrillo family, including Julio’s parents, Carmen and Julio, also attended but declined to be interviewed.

Fewer people, mostly family and close friends, attended the funeral Saturday at St. Mary’s, a church that closed two years ago but was temporarily reopened for this occasion.

Epstein, 71, who knew Marissa for most of her life, described Sharon Carrillo as a typical “suburban mother.”

“Sharon was tremendously conscientious, she was an active participant in school,” she said after Marissa’s funeral Saturday. “She was a wonderful, wonderful parent.”

When Julio Carrillo married Sharon, Epstein remembers telling Julio to take care of her.

“I said to him, ‘You be good to her. She’s part of our family,’” Epstein said.

In the wake of Marissa’s death, Epstein has wondered if Marissa ever asked for help.

“Did Marissa ever reach out to a teacher to say, ‘I’m being beaten’?” Epstein asked. “Did she know she had a right to say that?”

Katie Cowart, whose 10-year-old son attended school for two years with Marissa, said the death has roiled the Windsor Academy community of parents.

“We look at one another’s children and ask, ‘How could this happen to one of our own?’” Cowart said.

“It was nothing anyone could have predicted. It just wasn’t even possible,” she said. “It’s unfathomable.”

Multiple reports of suspected neglect and abuse were made to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services as early as 2016, shortly after Marissa moved with her family from New York to Bangor.

[What happens when child abuse is reported in Maine]

The state’s top legislators called last week for an internal investigation into DHHS’ handling of the case. A legislative watchdog panel agreed Friday to investigate the state’s child welfare system, in part spurred by Kennedy’s brutal death.

Bishop Jerry Roy, Marissa’s great-uncle and Roseann Kennedy’s older brother, gave Marissa’s eulogy Saturday morning.

“She is near us right now. We can talk to her,” Roy said. “Tell her not to fear the change. Tell her we will always remember her and she will always be in our hearts.”

After the service, as family and friends filed out of the church, Roy said he didn’t want to speculate on what went wrong until the investigation into DHHS has been completed and facts are revealed.

“The system up there has to work. Until it does, until we have those answers, we can’t waste our time or energy speculating,” he said.

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