Erica Parsons laid to rest

Published 12:10 am Sunday, February 26, 2017

By Shavonne Walker

SALISBURY — A mix of purple, pink and white flowers sit atop an all-white casket that is wheeled into just the right spot — a spot in a nearly empty sanctuary with just enough sun to shine through its stained glass windows.

It’s a spot just behind an oil painting of a little girl with a sweet smile staring back and the words “In Loving Memory Erica Parsons” inscribed at the bottom.

Family, law enforcement and strangers slowly filled First Baptist Church to say their final goodbyes Saturday to a little girl whose life was taken too soon.

Most of those gathered inside the church had never met Erica Parsons, a girl who would’ve celebrated her 19th birthday the day before. Most only knew her as the Rowan County teen who went missing over five years ago or the girl whose remains were found buried in a shallow grave in rural South Carolina.

On Saturday, she was remembered for the young woman that she might’ve been and how her tragic death is a sad reminder for a community to “pay attention” to the countless children who may also endure abuse.

The family silently filed into the church. Erica’s biological mother Carolyn Parsons was seated on one side while the majority of Erica’s extended adoptive family sat on the other. Although the family appeared to grieve as any family would, the young girl’s funeral was more for the people in the community.

The funeral was a chance for the people, who for three years wore purple ribbons, released balloons, printed T-shirts and remembered Erica in their prayers.

Erica Parsons remembered

Erica Parsons’ name was first uttered in July 2013 when her adoptive brother James “Jamie” Parsons told Rowan County Sheriff’s detectives he had not seen or heard from his sister since November 2011, when she was 13 years old. The brown-eyed girl was first seen by the community with a frizzy-haired ponytail in a missing person’s poster.

Jamie Parsons’ confession, and later his federal court testimony, launched an investigation that captured national attention and uncovered allegations of the severe abuse of Erica by Sandy and Casey Parsons and their biological children.

Prayers were offered up by John Carlton, a volunteer with Guardian ad Litem; and Beth McKeithan, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Rowan. McKeithan urged everyone to not forget the cries of the neglected children and to “hold the life of each child on this earth dear.”

Rowan County Commission Chair Greg Edds, also a member of First Baptist, sang a heart-wrenching rendition of Chris Tomlin’s “I Will Rise.”

Dr. Kenneth Lance, pastor of First Baptist Church, provided a message that spoke of the grief the community has felt and rage at the injustice that was done to this little girl, but he also begged everyone to look a little deeper at themselves.

“Why didn’t we know?” Lance asked.

“Most of us in the room didn’t know Erica Parsons, but God knew her. God was with her even at the exact instant her earthly life came to an end,” he said.

“I never met Erica. I don’t know what her favorite color is or what subjects she liked in school or if she had a favorite flavor of ice cream,” Lance said.

“My faith teaches that if Erica Parsons creates within us a more attentive community, a more encouraging community, a more just community for every child of every race, of every background, of every religion, of every point of origin, then God has redeemed her tragedy,” Lance said.

Rowan Sheriff Kevin Auten, at times fighting back emotions, said it was more difficult to talk about Erica Parsons’ death than that of his own father. He shared how the investigation took a toll on investigators, many of whom were hoping for an outcome that would have meant Erica was found alive.

“Our community is hurting, but there is still hope,” Auten said.

Strangers, family and law enforcement followed quietly behind the all-white casket covered with purple, pink and white flowers sitting on top. Law enforcement cars led the hearse and procession of cars down South Main Street, slowly passing the Rowan County Courthouse, out of Salisbury and eventually to West Lawn Memorial Park in China Grove were Erica Parsons’ casket, with angels flanking each corner, was placed into the ground.

As the procession led to the cemetery, motorists stopped along the road, residents walked out onto their front porches and a couple of fire trucks even lined the road.

A tortured life

Early on in the Rowan County investigation, it quickly became a matter of hidden truths when detectives worked to determine just when and where the teen had disappeared and were met with resistance from Sandy and Casey Parsons.

Authorities said the couple were never really forthcoming on details that would’ve led them to find Erica. It wasn’t until late September 2016 that the young girl’s skeletal remains were unearthed from a shallow grave just outside Chesterfield, S.C.

Throughout the investigation, Sandy and Casey Parsons — who adopted Erica as an infant when her biological mother and Sandy’s former sister-in-law Carolyn Parsons gave her up — maintained she had gone to live with paternal grandmother Irene “Nan” Goodman.

Family members and authorities would eventually confirm that Irene Goodman did not exist.

The Parsonses were eventually arrested for collecting benefits meant for Erica’s care long after she was gone from their home. Even then, they maintained that — as far as they knew — Erica was alive and well.

In August 2016, Sandy Parsons broke through that facade when he sought out Lt. Chad Moose with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and admitted that Erica was in fact dead.

Neither Sandy nor Casey Parsons has been charged in Erica’s death. After their 2014 arrest and subsequent federal hearings, Casey Parsons pleaded guilty to tax fraud, mail fraud, identity theft and a host of other offenses. She is currently serving 10 years in federal prison while Sandy, who refused a plea deal, was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Although she’s been laid to rest, justice for Erica remains.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.