Standing at the pulpit, Mariah Loper recalled, in a small shaking voice, the day she went to the airport to greet her older cousin, a Marine fighting in Afghanistan. Her hero was finally home.
"I still remember holding up the 'Welcome Home Timmy' sign," Mariah Loper said Friday, looking down at the casket draped in an American flag. "I cherished every moment we spent together. . . . He made us so proud, and he will always be our Marine."
Timothy Loper Jr. was laid to rest Friday after a packed funeral attended by family, friends, community members, and fellow servicemen. He was 27.
Nearly two years after Loper, a low-altitude air defense gunner, completed his tour in Afghanistan - returning to his wife, Beverly, and 6-year-old daughter, Tahtiana - he was shot and killed shortly before 3 a.m. Sunday trying to break up a fight at 20 Horse Tavern.
The man responsible, prosecutors say, is Darrell Crone, 31. At a first court appearance Thursday, he pleaded not guilty to the murder and weapons charges. He remains in jail on $2 million bail.
Authorities have said that Loper and Crone did not know each other and that the fight, which broke out between a friend of Loper's and a friend of Crone's, was over a woman.
On Friday, Loper Jr. was remembered through gospel music, poetry, Scripture, and personal anecdotes. Loper was the peacekeeper in the family, relatives said, and a hard worker who liked to relax by spending time with his family, playing cards, or watching The First 48 on TV.
Loper was attending Camden County College to study sports management, according to an obituary, and worked overnight as a shift supervisor at Keystone Industries in Cherry Hill.
In the Marines, he was promoted to lance corporal in July 2010 and honorably discharged in April 2012.
At Antioch Baptist Church, friends and family - some wearing jackets and T-shirts with Loper's picture on them, others dressed in San Francisco 49ers garb, a nod to Loper's favorite team - mourned the loss of a husband, father, son, and loyal friend.
"We lost a great man today," said Loper's father, Timothy Sr. "He was my hero and my best friend. I know he's looking down and seeing all this love. It's pretty amazing. My granddaughter lost her father, but we're all going to come together to try to take his place."
The Rev. John O. Parker officiated and condemned the never-ending cycle of violence that has brought casket after casket through the church doors. "This is not the war zone," he said, his voice rising, "and your brother and sister, father and mother are not your enemy."
Loper Jr. was the 51st person killed in Camden this year. Last year, the city reported a record 67 homicides.
Throughout the ceremony, a slide show of photographs of Loper played on screens inside the church - some of him in uniform, many of him smiling with his young daughter and wife.
The Rev. Wayne Chinn, who lost his own son to violence when the young man was 34, eulogized Loper Jr. and called on the family to treat the tragedy as an opportunity "not for vengeance, but for change."
"God's getting your attention," he said. "God's getting all our attention."
Before pallbearers lifted Loper's casket out of the church, three Marines saluted, removed the flag, and folded it into the ceremonial triangle as a cantor sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Outside, Loper's family followed behind the casket, weeping, as four Marines fired off a gun salute and a trumpeter played Taps, the solemn notes lingering in the rainy, gray morning.