SOUTH SALT LAKE — In a unique blending of cultures, people from a wide span of races and nationalities bid an emotional farewell Monday to a 7-year-old girl who captured the hearts of a community after she disappeared one week ago.
Funeral services were held for Hser Ner Moo at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Haven Ward, 2280 S. 300 East. It was the same building used just a week ago as the command post in the search for the missing girl. Her body was found a day later in an apartment just 50 yards from her own.
Moo and her family moved from a refugee camp in Thailand in August to live in Utah and start a new life. The family still was learning how to speak English.
On Monday, both English-speaking and non-English-speaking people shared a common bond in mourning the loss of Moo. Hugs and tears were understood universally.
Members of Moo's family and other ethnic Karen people sat near the front of the chapel, many wearing traditional clothing called "Keka Soy Bloh," a colorful, poncho-like garment considered to be dressy among the Karen people. Moo's family all wore red Keka Soy Blohs.
The rest of the congregation, including several overflow areas, included a mix of Bikers Against Child Abuse members in their leather jackets, LDS missionaries in suits and ties, and members of various law enforcement and fire agencies and others who helped search for Moo.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and his wife attended Monday's funeral.
Cartoon Wah, Moo's father, was scheduled to speak at the service. But as he was walking toward the podium, Moo's mother, Pearlie Wah, stood up, briefly talked to her husband, and then took his place to address the congregation. It was the first time she had spoken publicly since her daughter disappeared.
"When she was alive, she was a very bright, beautiful girl," Pearlie Wah said. Wah spoke in Burmese, and an interpreter then repeated what she said.
"All her parents and brothers loved her the most," she said. "This time the Lord loves her most and asked for her back."
Wah called her daughter's kidnapping and murder the "first bad thing that has happened to our family (since coming to America) and the worst." She also thanked all the volunteers and law enforcers who worked to find her daughter and bring the case to a quick resolution.
Moo's uncle, Say Bloh, also addressed the congregation, saying that the Lord created both night and day.
"The darkness and hopelessness will always pass on," he said through an interpreter.
One of the most touching moments of the service came when the Karen people present, between 50 to 75, all stood, faced the rest of the audience and sang "Pass Me Not" in their native tongue.
Headphones were passed out to the Karen people prior to the service for people who needed the English speeches translated.
Ben Pender, who lived close to the Wah family and befriended them, recalled how Moo loved her pink princess shoes and how pink was her favorite color. She was smart, social and friendly. In school, she would cut out paper circles and place them on her eyelids so when she closed her eyes she would have a second set, Pender recalled.
Pender fondly recalled a story told to him by one of Moo's teachers about how she covered the bathroom floor with soap so she could ice skate.
Moo loved playing teacher with other children and passing out colored pencils and notebooks to them, Pender said. She was strict about attending church. And when she and her father fell asleep, their heads always touched, he said. The bond between Moo and Cartoon Wah was a strong daddy-daughter tie. Every time she would walk past him, she would run her finger across his forehead and say, "You're my daddy," Pender said.
Pender recalled a story of how Wah was always looking out for his daughter, and would try to buy her a snack at the store when he could, when he came home from work. One day, he wanted to buy everyone in his family a hamburger, Pender said. But at the restaurant, the only English word he knew was "hamburger." He tried to hold up four fingers to explain what he wanted, but the clerk could not understand him, Pender said. Wah went home with one hamburger, which the family cut into four pieces and ate happily.
Moo's brothers each wrote letters to their deceased sister. Ker Ker Po called her the "most beautiful girl" in his eyes.
"I am very saddened. I don't know what to say," Ker Ker said.
Kyi Kyi Po, likewise, was grief-stricken.
"I think about all that she would have become," he wrote. "From this day forward I will always want to see you again, but I don't know when I can."
A proclamation was read during the funeral from South Salt Lake Mayor Bob Gray declaring Monday a day of respect, honor and remembrance for Moo.
At the interment ceremony at Elysian Burial Gardens, 1075 E. 4580 South, a traditional Christian graveside dedication was given as well as a traditional Karen service.
When Karen people are killed, such as in battle, a military commander will "release" them from their duties on Earth. On Monday, Carrie Pender, the refugee specialist with the Granite School District and a Wah family friend, released Moo from her studies at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.
"Your classes are now complete. You are now released to continue classes with Heavenly Father in heaven," she said.
Meanwhile, charges against Esar Met, 21, the man arrested in connection with the kidnapping and killing of Moo, were expected to be announced Tuesday.