ATLANTIC CITY — The tragic end to Nadirah Ruffin's life does not mean the story is over, mourners were reminded at her funeral Tuesday.
"We must not forget justice," Imam Amin Muhammad said as he addressed the hundreds who packed the All Wars Memorial Building Tuesday morning. "We need to find the perpetrators of this crime."
Ruffin, 19, who was living in Egg Harbor Township with her 4-year-old son, was last seen alive March 26 as she was being forced from her cousin's Back Maryland home at gunpoint.
Three men and a woman barged into the apartment wearing masks and brandishing guns, police said. The four other women with Ruffin were tied up with duct tape and robbed. Ruffin - tearfully begging to be spared for her son, witnesses said - was forced to go with the invaders.
Her body was discovered April 19, caught in some brush on the Martin Luther King Drive side of the Schuylkill River at the bend near Montgomery Avenue in Philadelphia. There was duct tape on her head and parts of her upper torso, a handcuff dangling from her left ankle. She died of a gunshot wound to the head.
At a news conference last week, Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel urged those in the Philadelphia area to call investigators if they saw any suspicious activity near the river. He also repeated the call to Atlantic City residents who may have seen what happened the night Ruffin was taken.
"It is impossible that this could have happened and no one saw anything," said Muhammad, of Masjid Muhammad mosque.
There was loud agreement in the crowd.
"There will be no healing and reconciliation in our community or in our families until truth and honesty become more powerful than lies and coverups," the Rev. Gilbert Caldwell of Asbury United Methodist Church wrote in a letter he asked be read at the service. "May the truth that is being concealed and unrevealed come forth to comfort a family and heal our community."
Outside the service Tuesday, more than a half dozen law-enforcement agents were gathered. They did not appear to interview anyone but watched as people piled into the All Wars building.
A community rally is being planned to help get out information about the attack, said Kaleem Shabazz, president of Masjid Muhammad.
"We want to mobilize the people again," he said. A date has not yet been set.
Meanwhile, as Ruffin's family members mourned her, they thought of another family that still doesn't know what happened to their loved one.
On Nov. 21, 2002, Sierra Thomas was taken from the same area in Back Maryland. She, too, was just 19 and a mother.
"At least we have closure," Ruffin's uncle Leon Murray said. "It's not the closure we wanted, but at least it's closure. I pity (Thomas' mother)."
"There is still a missing child out there," said David Muhammad, Ruffin's great-uncle.
While authorities could not say exactly how long Ruffin had been dead before her body was found, several mourners wore shirts that showed her passing as April 20, 2011, the day her body was positively identified. Many had photos of Ruffin with her son, Jahlil, whom she called "Dink."
"RIP Lil Mommaz," one said on the front, with the back reading, "We'll miss you."
"She will forever be remembered by those whose lives she so lovingly touched," Mayor Lorenzo Langford wrote in a letter read by one of Ruffin's cousins at the service.
"Her name means rare and unique," David Muhammad said. "She was rare and she was unique. And now she's gone."
Ruffin's father, Diallo Longcrier, acknowledged he was hoping for a better outcome to his daughter's story, but said he was proud to see all those who turned out to honor her.
"Everyone came out and showed their love and support," he said. "What more could I ask for?"
Ruffin was buried at the Atlantic City Cemetery in Pleasantville next to her beloved "Pop-Pop," William Ruffin Sr.
Contact Lynda Cohen:
Information on the case
Anyone with information is asked to call the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office at 609-909-7800 or go to the Prosecutor’s Office website at www.acpo.org/tips.html. Calls also can be made to the Atlantic City Detective Bureau at 609-347-5766 or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 609-652-1234.
To help the family
Nadirah Ruffin’s family has set up a website asking for donations to help her 4-year-old son, Jahlil Boston. Donations can be made on the site at www.nadirahruffinfund.org