WINONA — Hundreds of mourners gathered at the First Baptist Church of Winona Wednesday afternoon to celebrate and remember Marlee Marie Jones.
Jones died of gunshot wounds Friday night, along with two of her friends, Jim and Brooks Harrell, at the Harrells’ Carroll County home. Jones’ husband, Michael Barnhill, has been charged with the three homicides.
People lined up outside the church, many fellow nurses in groups, dressed in scrubs and running shoes, and doctors from Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital, where Jones had worked, in suits and topcoats. People who make their living caring for people met each other in consoling hugs.
Inside, the line snaked through the narthex of the church, then entered the sanctuary up an aisle to the front where Marlee’s parents, Sandy and Brooks Jones of Winona, and her sister, Ashley Jones White, and brother-in-law, Daniel, of Madison, received guests. They stood among nearly 40 plants and flower arrangements, and in front of a video screen showing photos of Marlee and her family from vacation snapshots to Thanksgiving dinners.
The Joneses embraced the mourners, her mother hanging on tight and her father offering pats on the back, just steps away from where their 27-year-old daughter laid in an open white casket with brass handles, family photos leaning against the open lid.
As the service was about to begin, the Joneses paused before the casket, leaned over to kiss their daughter, then left through a side door as funeral directors folded in the white satin lining and closed the lid for the last time. The parents came back in a procession with more than a dozen pallbearers.
“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to wrap our minds around the death of someone so young,” said the Rev. Jay Anderson, pastor of First Baptist.
He described Marlee as “a loving person, lovely personality, fun to be around” and someone “who had a positive impact on our lives.”
“When the winds blow and the waves toss you about, you have an anchor, and it is hope,” he offered the mourners.
Anderson was joined in the ceremony by the Rev. Carl White of Meridian, a retired minister and the father-in-law of Marlee’s sister. He described Marlee in her roles as “daughter, sister, friend, nurse,” and that as their first child she had inherited “her father Brooks’ charm and her mother Sandy’s generosity.”
The name Barnhill wasn’t mentioned during the service, although it was difficult to consider the body of the young woman lying in the white casket, surrounded by pictures, dozens and dozens of flowers, and her family, friends, neighbors and co-workers, without understanding she was a victim of a terrible crime, her life ended on the eve of her 27th birthday in a violent act, allegedly at the hands of the man she had married.
And although they weren’t mentioned either, it was difficult to consider Marlee Jones without also knowing Jim and Brooks Harrell died next to her that night as they tried to come to her aid and also were gunned down, again allegedly by Barnhill.
The law enforcement officers at the services were indications that a crime had been committed, as was the presence of Carroll County Sheriff Clint Walker, who hugged Marlee’s parents before walking across and pausing at the casket.
“How bad is this?” White said. “It’s about as bad as it gets. How hard is it? It’s about as hard as it gets.”
White offered Scripture to help understand the grief being felt by the hundreds before him, and he told people not to try to wipe away the grief or drown it but to carry it with them and realize they were carrying their love for Marlee.
“Grief is feeling like you’re going insane,” he said. “But you’re not insane. What happened was insane.”
White said he had also heard talk “that we should take care of this situation here,” indicating that some might take the law into their own hands and deal with Barnhill outside the criminal justice system. The minister discouraged anyone considering such an act, saying it would only create more grief.
“Justice belongs to God,” he said. “It doesn’t belong to us. ... Getting even, you can do that in a kid’s world, but in the real world there’s no such thing as even. It just does not exist.”
In prayer, White said, “We’re not going crazy but this world is. It’s insane, and terrible things are happening.”
•Contact Gavin Maliska at 581-7235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.