Fayetteville, WV — (WVNS)– Raylee Browning would have turned 12 years old on Monday, July 11, 2022.
Instead, her family gathered in Fayetteville for a candlelight vigil on Saturday, July 9, 2022, to remember the little girl, who died in 2018.
For the first time since 2018, Raylee Browning’s mother, Janice Wriston, of Beckley, decorated a cake.
Wriston said she and Raylee decorated cakes together before the little girl died while under the care of her father, Marty Browning Jr. of Oak Hill.
“Raylee loved to be there whenever I decorated cakes,” said Wriston. ” She took so much part in it that it broke my heart to make them without her.”
After Raylee’s death, her family says, Wriston could not make another cake.
Until the day of her vigil.
With Raylee’s trial finished, Wriston gathered friends and family at Huse Memorial Park in Fayetteville to remember Raylee.
Wriston said Raylee had a particular love for the sunshine and that she liked being outdoors. She wanted to be a mom and a teacher.
“She was an amazing, empathetic, loved, loving, loved to be loved, hugged child,” said Wriston. “Loved sunrises. Loved horses. Loved school. She had so much love for so many different things.”
Raylee’s family looked at pictures of her and shared memories of the child they lost. They also sang “Happy Birthday” to her. The cake showed the silhouette of Rapunzel, Raylee’s favorite Disney princess.
In the movie “Tangled,” Rapunzel finds a helper and escapes from a caretaker who has kept her locked away from her family. Wriston said she believes Raylee may have identified with the character.
During the vigil, over cake, Raylee’s family and friends asked why Child Protective Services and other agencies ignored their pleas and those of Raylee’s teachers, who reported that Raylee was unhappy in the house and that she had injuries and was losing weight.
Some asked how Medicaid could pay for eight-year-old Raylee to receive strong psychiatric drugs usually prescribed for adults.
Last month, Fayette County jurors found Browning Jr, his wife Julie Browning, and Julie’s sister, Sherie Titchenell, guilty of neglecting the 8-year-old and causing her death.
Special prosecutor Brian Parsons and state witnesses told jurors during the trial that the three abused and neglected Raylee. Parsons said they starved Raylee, broke her leg, and began to homeschool her when her teachers in Nicholas County made reports to Child Protective Services.
Witnesses said they had started to homeschool Raylee and later moved to Oak Hill to evade attention from authorities in Nicholas County.
CPS workers testified that Raylee’s files did not show she was abused. One CPS worker testified she was unaware of how some information from Raylee’s school was included in Raylee’s official CPS file.
Nicholas County teacher Carrie Ciliberti testified she had been misidentified as a school counselor in the state files.
A Charleston child abuse expert testified at trial that Raylee was the victim of medical abuse.
Dr. Joan Phillips said it was suspicious that the eight-year-old was on a number of strong psychiatric drugs that are usually reserved for adults.
Raylee’s medical providers testified they did not talk to Raylee but instead took information from the three adults.
During the vigil, Raylee’s great uncle said state agents and medical workers should take the time to speak with patients.
“You have to sit and talk and listen to them,” said Sam Seletyn, who is a chaplain in Maryland. “And listening not only to what they say but what their actions—physically look at them and understand them.”
Raylee’s younger sister Jaylynn Wriston is six years old now. She cannot remember Raylee, but she knows from photos and family stories that Raylee loved to hold and feed her when she was a newborn.
“Raylee took very good care of me,” said Jaylynn. “And she loved me a lot.”
Wriston said she wants the public to remember Raylee for how she lived and for who she was. She said she wants people to know Raylee was strong. For months, Wriston said, Raylee survived in circumstances most of us never face.
Wriston said Raylee enjoyed church and that her love of God and empathy for others is an example.
“She loved to talk about Jesus, anything to do with Jesus, and the heavens, and how God had made the earth,” said Wriston, adding, “Raylee had mentioned that she forgave her other household for hurting her.”
During the vigil, Raylee’s loved ones lit candles to the song “You Are My Sunshine.” Wriston said it’s the song she often sang to Raylee, who loved sunrises and wanted to go to a beach. She said she called Raylee “Sunshine.”
Wriston said she plans to speak before Fayette Circuit Court Judge Paul Blake on Aug. 8 during the sentencing hearing for the two sisters and Browning.