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Relatives and well-wishers pay their last respects after the funeral service of murdered teen Ashanti Riley at the Mt D’or Seventh Day Adventist Church yesterday.

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The hearts of men must change. This was the call as murder victim Ashanti Riley was laid to rest yesterday.

Her cousin, Pastor Steve Riley, addressed many of the debates which have arisen since the teenager’s death, including debates on the regularisation of ‘PH’ taxi drivers and the legalisation of pepper spray and tasers, during his sermon at the Mt D’or Seven Day Adventist Church.

“The heart of the matter is the heart of men. At the end of the day, badge or no badge, it depends on the character of the driver,” he said, adding that society had created men who were guided by unbridled passions with a particular view of women guided by media advertisements and music, which he said also needed addressing to curb crimes such as this.

“Even as we wait for women to be armed with their own form of defence legally, even as we wait for that, I still believe there are some things we can do, we can pepper spray those commercials, we can pepper spray those songs that denigrate women’s anatomy.”

Pastor Riley noted the 18-year-old’s funeral was taking place one day after the fifth anniversary of another murdered woman’s funeral—Shannon Banfield.

He admitted to the congregation that the manner of these murders sometimes made him feel like abandoning theology and stepping into vigilantism.

The pastor was not the only member of the family to speak on anger. Another of Ashanti’s cousins, Joshua George, also spoke on his struggle to come to terms with her death, as she had been a mentor to him.

“Ashanti would tell me all men are dogs and now I would feel she was completely right. If you asked me out of it all, ‘Joshua what did you learn’, I could lie to you and say ‘well, young ladies must be aware and men ought to keep their hands to themselves’ but I won’t. From this I learn absolutely nothing,” said George, who, however, admitted that giving into that anger would not honour his cousin’s memory.

“Hatred and sorrow rages and grows stronger within me because of these events. Ashanti wouldn’t want us to become sad hateful persons because of this. I’m sure she would want us to continue living not just for ourselves but for her as well and to do something better for ourselves each day.”

Pastor Riley also made calls for an end to violence against women, as he pointed out that Ashanti’s death also brought back painful memories for families of other victims who befell similar fates.

“We may have lost her but thankfully we still found her. What about the many other parents whose hearts are still grieving because they don’t have a trace as to where their child might be?” he said.

“For she is our mother, she is our daughter, she was our aunt, she was our niece, she is our cousin, she is our sister. She is not our enemy, she stands next to us, she is part of the human race. Women’s lives matter. Ashanti’s life matters. Krystal’s life matters. Shannon Banfield’s life matters.”

He stressed that even with improved legislation, it was up to the people to act with the required decency.

Three parliamentarians – Minister of Education Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, Minister in the Ministry of Education Lisa Morris-Julian and Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein attended the funeral.

Gadsby-Dolly signed the condolence memorial upon arrival.

Riley’s teacher at the Aranguez North Secondary School, Amrika Mutroo, who joined with her students in wearing t-shirts bearing her image in memorial, sang in honour of her student during the service while Aaliyah Riley, the teenager’s sister, and Nanyamka Wellington delivered the eulogy.

After being galvanised by Pastor Riley’s call to protect and uplift women, the raw emotion which had been quelled up to that point erupted as Candice Riley, the teenager’s mother, burst into tears on her daughter’s closed casket during the prayer of Assurance. The late teenager’s boyfriend required medical care after he fainted.

Ashanti Riley was later buried at the San Juan cemetery.