Originally created 05/29/99

Starting to heal



Eight years after his death, the Augusta community came together Friday morning to say a final good-bye to James Porter.

"James Porter was a bright and happy 10-year-old boy. I would have liked James. I wish I could have known him," said First Baptist Church of Augusta Associate Pastor Roger Murchinson, who officiated the memorial service at Hephzibah Cemetery.

James had been buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery since his body was discovered in Augusta Canal on May 17, 1991. James had been missing since March 14 and was last seen heading to a grocery store on Broad Street to buy some milk for his mother.

His death had been ruled an accidental drowning by the county coroner until last month when William "Junior" Downs, 31, a carpenter's apprentice from Albany, Ga., admitted to killing James after the boy refused to have sex with him.

Mr. Downs also has confessed to molesting and strangling Keenan O'Mailia, 6, in North Augusta on April 17.

While the family had to once again relive the boy's death through Mr. Downs' confession, the service did give them some comfort.

The response from the community "has meant a lot. It can never bring him back or replace him, but it's meant a lot to know so many people care," said Kathy Porter, James' mother.

The service was made possible by Elliott Sons Funeral Home, which provided a bronze marker for James' grave and assisted in putting the memorial together.

"Any wounds that had healed since 1991 had been reopened and closure is such an important part of grief. We thought this was something we could do to contribute to (the family) and help them in their recovery process," said Phillip Byrd, director of Elliot Sons.

With a framed picture of James donated by the District Attorney's office sitting above the fresh marker, the Rev. Murchinson celebrated the boy's life by sharing recollections of people who knew him.

One of James' teachers at Houghton Elementary School remembered a smart, polite boy willing to tutor his fellow pupils.

From other memories emerged the picture of a young boy who loved to draw, fish on the Savannah River with his uncle and grandfather, help others and learn new things daily.

"This service today reminds us of the value of life, a 10-year-old boy and every life. We all grieve the passing of James Porter and our community sheds a collective tear," the Rev. Murchinson said during the memorial.

After the service, the Rev. Murchinson said the outpouring of support showed "the community at its best."

"It's difficult that it took a tragedy to bring that out, but sometimes through suffering and pain, good can come out and I think it has in this situation," the Rev. Murchinson said.

As for James' family, Ms. Porter said they can now start to heal. "This was a long time due."