Hundreds filed into a North Las Vegas church Saturday for the funeral of Paula Davis, the 19-year-old UNLV student who was shot and killed Sept. 6.
St. John Neumann Roman Catholic Church, where Davis had been a devout member for all of her young life, seats about 700 people. But far more than that showed up, as attendees stood along the outer wall and spilled into overflow rooms.
“I think the amount of people here today is a testament to the impact that she had on everyone who knew her,” said Casey Davis, Paula’s older brother. Casey and his youngest sister spoke on behalf of the family to open the ceremony. The siblings and their father, Sean, also led the church choir, band and attendees in song throughout the service.
The family shared a video featuring a 4-year-old Paula Davis singing to the camera while walking along a beach. Many in the audience cried as the video traced Davis’ life with footage of her many performances, which gave way to a photo montage accompanied by the church choir she once led as a cantor.
Sean Davis, director of the church choir, found his daughter dead in the family van just hours after she sent her ex-boyfriend, Giovanni Ruiz, a final breakup text message on Sept. 6. He was arrested days later and charged with murder.
On Saturday, clergy and family members shared stories of Davis’ faith and the example she set by spending hours volunteering with Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada.
Jim Jankowski, a pastor, said it was rare to see Davis at only one Mass on Sundays, as she preferred to attend two or three.
Jankowski read portions of a letter Davis wrote as part of a scholarship competition in which she compared her life to running, saying she was always striving for that faster time.
“It is the same way in my life,” Jankowski read. “Ultimately, I strive to be a good, kind, supportive person who makes a difference in other people’s lives. When I die, I hope that is how I am remembered.”
“So,” Jankowski said, looking up from her letter, “wasn’t Paula remembered that way?”
Bishop George Leo Thomas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas called Davis “a central figure in this parish.”
“Today, this family and the community at large — all of us — have been touched by tragedy,” he said. “An untimely death of someone so filled with life puts us face to face both with darkness and a thousand unanswered questions.”
Thomas then quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “Only in darkness can you see the stars.”
“Paula was a star,” he added.
After the two-hour funeral, Davis’ parents spent an additional hour hugging and speaking to hundreds who offered condolences. Church staff hurried boxes of tissues to where the Davis family greeted them.
Few left with dry eyes.