By D’Ann White
A rainbow of balloons arched over the tiny white coffin while favorite children's songs played over loudspeakers at Serenity Meadows Funeral Home in Riverview.
Situated on tables throughout the funeral home were mementoes of 5-year-old Lilly Christine Mills' life -- her favorite Webkinz stuffed animals, Mother's Day drawings, a princess castle and a dollhouse where one little girl, oblivious to the sorrow surrounding her, played quietly before the service.
In honor of the little girl, who died as a result of a reported drunken-driving accident on U.S. 301 and Bloomingdale Avenue July 1, friends and family members dressed in her favorite color, pink, for her funeral July 12. Pink flowers flanked both sides of the coffin along with oversized tulle butterflies, one of the many wonders of nature that Lilly loved.
Born Feb. 4, 2006, Lilly Mills had a short but full life, according to her grandmother, Isben Populin, who gave a tearful eulogy for the little girl.
"She took in every detail of the world around her," said Populin. "She didn't waste a moment of her life. Our hearts are broken."
The Rev. Susan Lewis told those gathered that they had they had good reason to be angry at Rolando Rojas, 52, of 120 E. Crenshaw St., Tampa, who was arrested and charged with driving under the influence manslaughter, reckless driving involving serious injury, four counts of DUI involving property damage and DUI following the accident.
"You're asking, 'Why did this happen?' and thinking, 'I hope they put this guy away forever,'" Lewis said. "So am I."
But she said this wasn't the time for anger.
"We're here to celebrate Lilly's short life and help (her parents) Samantha and Paul through this tragedy," said Lewis. "There is no adequate explanation for this loss. God created a perfect world, and this was not His will."
Lewis said some people may say Lilly's death was God's will.
"Don't you believe it," she said. "Our God loves us. He doesn't will the death of children. I'm sure that God did not choose her to take. Every child is unique and precious. We're being faced with a mystery of life and a mystery of death for which there are no easy answers."
Like a rose that never has a chance to blossom, people are sometimes gathered into God's fold before their time, she said.
"It's important for you to know that God is on your side," Lewis continued. "God didn't do this to you. And God will help you through it."
Rojas remains incarcerated in the Hillsborough County Jail. Bond on the DUI manslaughter charge is set at $100,000.
In the meantime, relatives have set up a fund to help the Mills family. Lilly's father, Paul, is unable to work as a carpenter and tiler due to injuries he sustained in the accident. Lilly's sister, Audrey, 7, will require plastic surgery as a result of her injuries.
Contributions can be made to a bank account in the name of Samantha Poulin/Paul Mills at Bank of America, account no. 1800 4321000 at any Bank of America branch. Donations also can be sent directly to the family at their Riverview home, 8431 Valrie Lane, 33569.
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