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CANTON | Jorelys Rivera memorialized Saturday | News

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CANTON | Jorelys Rivera memorialized Saturday
News

CANTON, Ga. -- The family of 7-year-old murder victim Jorelys Rivera released a flock of doves outside First Baptist Church to symbolize her rising spirit.

The bilingual funeral service drew hundreds of mourners Saturday, just days after Rivera's body was found in a trash compactor. The young girl was snatched from a playground inside the River Ridge Apartment complex and taken to an empty apartment where she was sexually assaulted, beaten, stabbed and killed.

The girl's parents, Joseline Rivera and Richardi Galaraza, were planning to speak at the funeral service, but became too overwhelmed to go to the podium.

The parents will take their daughter's body to Puerto Rico for burial.

Friday night, hundreds of people turned out to say farewell to Jorelys and to offer comfort to her family.

SHARE | Condolences for Jorelys Rivera's family
GALLERY | Vigil in memory of Jorelys Rivera

The family held a visitation for Jorelys Friday evening, even as the throngs of mourners gathered for the outdoor vigil. The assembled included many entire families, with children of their own. They held candles and quietly listened as prayers and songs were offered amid the grief-stricken tears of Jorelys' mother Joselin Rivera.

"Why, why," Joselin sobbed as she went to the funeral home. "She was so innocent. Why did he take her like this?"

As the vigil ended, balloons were released in her honor.

PHOTOS | Suspect arrested in murder of Jorelys Rivera
TIMELINE | The murder of Jorelys Rivera

The man charged with killing her appeared in court for the first time Thursday.

Ryan Brunn, who lived and worked at her apartment complex, made his first appearance in Cherokee County Superior Court in an orange jumpsuit and bulletproof vest. He answered the judge's questions quietly and appeared nervous as he surveyed the crowded courtroom.

The 20-year-old suspect kept turning around to look at the crowd behind him as the judge read him his rights and reviewed the charges against him, 11Alive's Blayne Alexander reported from the courtroom.

The judge revealed that Brunn, a maintenance worker at the River Ridge Apartments in Canton, only has a 10th grade education.

Brunn's family has said he is innocent. His attorney, Daran Burns, said his client is "very shaken." 

RELATED | Ryan Brunn's brother: Murder suspect feared unjustified arrest

Meanwhile, Jorelys' two sisters are back with their family just days after the girl's murder. A judge awarded the family custody Thursday afternoon.

Even though the family has cooperated with police throughout the investigation, Jorelys' sisters were taken out of their mother's care over the weekend. On Sunday night, investigators searched the family's van and took evidence bags out of their apartment.

"We don't think [Jorelys'] mother had anything to do with her disappearance," Canton Police Detective Candy Worthy said. "We just think that she was not supervising well enough to keep all of the children safe."

"I am a very good mother," the girls' mother, Joselin Rivera, said Monday. "I'm a very hard-working mother. My kids have everything they need. Everything is in order. They have their room. They have their food. They don't want for anything."

The girls lived with their mom in the apartment complex where investigators believe Jorelys was killed. The father lives in Florida, but came up after Jorelys disappeared last Friday.

Ryan Brunn was arrested and charged Wednesday with Jorelys' murder and making false statements to investigators.

During the investigation and before Brunn's arrest, GBI Director Vernon Keenan had said investigators felt "very strongly" that Jorelys' killer either lived in her apartment complex or had ready access to it.

Neighbors told 11Alive's Duffie Dixon that Brunn had only recently been hired.

"We are confident that Brunn is the killer," Keenan said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon announcing Brunn's arrest.  He noted that additional charges were expected from the district attorney's office. 

WATCH | GBI News Conference: Maintenance worker arrested in Jorelys Rivera's murder

During an interview with detectives, Brunn said he was at Walmart at the time of Jorelys' abduction and murder, 11Alive's Kevin Rowson reported.

But, after investigators checked security videos at the Walmart, Rowson reported that they were able to conclude that Brunn's alibi didn't hold up.

Only hours after Brunn's arrest his brother, Connor Brunn, spoke out in his defense.

"Ryan is my brother, and I just think he's innocent," Connor told 11Alive's Doug Richards Wednesday afternoon. "There's just no way that he would do something like this."

"This is just a big mistake," he added. "I just honestly think this is a big set-up."

RELATED | Brunn's brother: Murder suspect feared unjustified arrest

Another brother, Steven Brunn, spoke with the Associated Press Wednesday night. He said Ryan "is great with kids" and has no criminal record. 

Steven added that "the real person may still be out there" plotting another attack. 

Both Connor and Steven Brunn live in Dahlonega, where Ryan lived until a month ago. He moved to Canton to take a job as a maintenance worker at the apartment complex where it's believed Jorelys was killed.

At a news conference Tuesday morning, GBI Director Vernon Keenan said preliminary autopsy results showed Jorelys died of blunt force trauma to her head. She was also stabbed and sexually assaulted.

RAW VIDEO | GBI's Tuesday morning news conference
WATCH | GBI Director Keenan's Monday news conference

The autopsy suggested Jorelys was killed within 1.5 hours of her disappearance.

She was last seen at about 5 p.m Friday afternoon at a playground in her apartment complex. Canton Police said Jorelys had gone home to get a drink. 

She never came back.

While investigators are still working on the timeline surrounding Jorelys' death, they believe she was abducted near the playground and taken to a vacant apartment, where she was assaulted and murdered.

Her body was found Monday in a dumpster from the apartment complex. Investigators said it had been located right across from Brunn's apartment.

While investigators had searched other dumpsters in the complex over the weekend, the contents of the dumpster where her body was found were compacted and could not be searched until the owner of the dumpster moved it to another location. Investigators found Jorelys' body while sifting through the dumpster's contents in an open field off Reinhardt College Parkway Monday afternoon.

"The state crime lab has much evidence that they are still processing," Keenan said Wednesday. While he would not specify what kind of evidence he was referring to, on Tuesday he mentioned DNA evidence, including what appeared to be blood.

PHOTOS | The search for Jorelys Rivera

Keenan said investigators had enough evidence to arrest Brunn Wednesday but noted that the case is far from over. "This investigation will continue on for several months," he said. 

More than 60 members of the Canton Police Department, Cherokee County Sheriff's Office, GBI and FBI have been working around the clock on the case, interviewing hundreds of people.

Keenan said one of the first things investigators did was interview registered sex offenders in the area. The GBI director said there was no reason to believe any of them was involved in Jorelys' disappearance and death. 

However he added that anyone else who might have had a hand in her death would be held to account.

He said investigators began tracking Brunn Tuesday night based on tips from the public. A $15,000 reward had been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Jorelys' killer.

Keenan said while the GBI was not aware of any past criminal record for Brunn, investigators are piecing together what he has been up to for past several years in other states.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Canton Police at (770) 721-7852.

Police weren't able to issue a Levi's Call when Jorelys first disappeared because no witnesses came forward to confirm an abduction and there were no descriptions of a suspect or vehicle.

PHOTOS | Missing Georgia children
RELATED | Georgia group looks to protect children

Investigators nonetheless treated Jorelys' disappearance as an abduction, pulling resources from across the state and even calling in the FBI. 

Hours before Jorelys' body was found Monday, her mother Joselin Rivera pleaded for her daughter's safe return.

"She's innocent," she said. "She's a little angel. She doesn't know what she's doing. She doesn't know why they took her. Give her back."

Joselin remembered her daughter as "friendly, sweet, had a lot of friends and everyone just loves her."

Jorelys' mom said that she hadn't seen her daughter since leaving for work Thursday night.

"She gave me a kiss and told me that she loved me a lot," Joselin said, adding that by the time she got home Friday morning, Jorelys had already left for school. 

The girl had been in the care of a teenage family friend when she disappeared from the playground Friday.

"There were several kids out there playing. Why her?" her mother asked. "I feel destroyed."

 

The 7-year-old went to Canton Elementary School. The Cherokee County School District issued this statement shortly after investigators announced her death Monday afternoon: 

"We are deeply saddened by the tragic and untimely death of Canton ES first-grade student, Jorelys Rivera.  Additional counselors and other support staff are being provided at Canton ES to assist students and staff. The Cherokee County School District continues to cooperate with local and state law enforcement agencies relative to the ongoing investigation.  The School District does not and will not comment on ongoing police investigations; accordingly, all questions in this regard should be directed to the Canton Police Department." 

A letter was also sent home to inform parents about Jorelys' death.

Her mother's employer, Pilgrim's Pride, has established a fund to help the family.

RELATED: Chiropractor raises hundreds for Rivera family

Contributions to the Jorelys Rivera Memorial Fund may be made through the United Community Bank in Canton. 

United Community Bank
2215 Riverstone Blvd.
Canton, GA 30114
(770) 479-6700 


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