In the most improbable place — the funeral for a 7-year-old — there was laughter Saturday as Kayden Mancuso's stepfather told of how he first met the little girl and how they became best friends. He spoke of her athletic prowess, her maturity, and how she wanted to be like her mother.
And there were tears as that grief-stricken mother, Kathryn Sherlock, took to the lectern at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Lower Makefield Township, Bucks County, and urged the more than 200 family members, friends, and supporters in attendance to help someone in need. If "one person" in authority had helped her, Sherlock said, Kayden might still be alive.
Her passionate plea left many in the church's wooden pews clapping while some dabbed away tears.
Kayden lived in Langhorne with her mother, stepfather, and two younger half-brothers. She was found dead last Monday in the living room of her father's Manayunk house, having been brutally beaten with a 35-pound dumbbell by Jeffrey Mancuso, 41, a man with a long history of abusive behavior who hanged himself after killing his daughter during a weekend visitation, authorities and family members said.
Mancuso and Sherlock had separated in 2012 and had never married.
Mourners paid tribute to Kayden prior to the funeral Mass, filing by her open white steel casket. She wore a cousin's white communion dress. The family had been contemplating putting her in the white flower girl dress she had worn to her mother's wedding to Brian Sherlock in 2016, but she had outgrown it.
The young girl with long brown hair, who was about to be a second grader at Edgewood Elementary School in Lower Makefield Township, looked like an angel Saturday.
Brian Sherlock told those gathered how he met Kayden when he went to pick up Kathryn Giglio for their first date in September 2013. He walked up to their house in Yardley and through the screen door could see Kayden, almost 3, "running around crazy" with her cousin Tommy. "The Giglios. I tell you — they're a great family. They welcome you with open arms," he said.
A couple of months later, he said, he was babysitting Kayden and was watching TV downstairs when Kayden called from upstairs: "Brian! Brian!" he mimicked in a loud voice. "I'm all done — pooping!" The two were best friends ever since, he said.
It was Brian Sherlock and Kayden's maternal grandfather, Thomas Giglio, who found her lifeless body in Mancuso's home.
Kayden was with her father last weekend as part of his court-approved custody-visitation rights. Mancuso's sister, Allyson, 42, has said that her brother had suffered from alcohol abuse since high school and frequently got in fights. She believes he suffered brain damage and an undiagnosed mental illness from the alcohol and the altercations. In recent years, he had alienated himself from family members, she said. While Mancuso hadn't previously hit Kayden, his sister said, she feared that he could. On Saturday, she attended Kayden's funeral with her mother, fiancé, and two stepchildren.
In the church lobby, images of Kayden played on a TV screen as part of a photo-and-video montage while "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten (which family members said was Kayden's song), Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years," and other songs played. In one video, Kayden was a toddler in a purple summer dress singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," pronouncing "little" as "wittle." In another, she was in a car seat belting out "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen.
Besides being a girl who loved princesses, unicorns, and L.O.L. dolls, Kayden excelled in sports, her stepfather, 42, told those gathered. She would be the girl running up the field with a soccer ball and scoring. And even though she was just 7, she recently made the age 10-and-up softball traveling team with the Pennsbury Athletic Association.
"But even with all that competitive fire, she wanted to be like her mom," he said. "She wanted to be a nurse. But then we told her what doctors and surgeons make and then she wanted to be a doctor or surgeon."
Kathryn Sherlock recalled watching the ESPY Awards, which recognizes athletic achievement, on TV last month with Kayden. But hers was a recollection to sound an urgent call to action.
At the end of the ESPY ceremony, more than 100 gymnasts and other athletes who were sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University team doctor Larry Nassar gathered onstage and accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
Those athletes needed just "one adult" to help them, to stop the abuse, Kathryn Sherlock, 37, told those gathered to mourn her daughter's death. Though initially appearing nervous, she spoke in a firm voice.
In her own Bucks County Family Court custody case, in which relatives have said she had told judges and other authorities of Mancuso's violent tendencies, Kathryn Sherlock said she also had needed "one person to just listen to me, one person to not just slam the door in my face."
She spoke of those who didn't help her — "from the cops to the lawyers to the judges to the child-protective services."
If a person has a legitimate concern, she urged, "don't turn them away."