Murdered toddler Sanaya Sahib has been laid to rest in a private, traditional Islamic burial after a public outpouring of grief where mourners remembered the “little princess”.
Almost 450 people gathered at Dandenong South’s Bunurong Memorial Park for the 14-month-old’s public memorial service, a week after she was reported missing.
As her tiny, black coffin sat at the front of the auditorium under a bouquet of yellow and pink flowers, Sanaya’s family, the teenager who found her little body, and community leaders spoke.
Sanaya was found murdered in the Darebin Creek on Sunday, less than 24 hours after her mother, Sofina Nikat, told police she had been snatched from her pram in Olympic Park in Heidelberg West.
Nikat, of Mitcham, was charged with her daughter’s murder on Tuesday and remains in custody.
Her father, Sameer, was hugged by a stream of mourners from the moment he arrived at the Dandenong South cemetery.
He did not speak at the service, but stood between the coffin he made himself and Sanaya’s grandfather Sheraz, as his father thanked the community for their support at the end of the memorial.
Sanaya’s uncle Jameel Ahmad gave a short eulogy for the toddler, thanking the hundreds, from all backgrounds, who had gathered.
“It’s incredible to see just how many hearts our Sanaya has touched,” he said.
“Sanaya brought so much joy to our family, Sameer loves his little princess and will love and miss her every day of his life.”
Mr Ahmad said “we can never thank you enough” to the Mason family, who found Sanaya early on Sunday morning.
Rosalia Mason spoke through tears, telling the community to remain united around Sanaya’s family.
The teenager was declared missing in December 2014, but returned home on Christmas Day after a public appeal from her parents.
Rosalia and her family grabbed torches and went looking in the park about midnight, after the search for Sanaya had been called off on Saturday night until 8am the next day.
“Seeing all the news about the missing girl affected my family and myself because the way her family are feeling right now, is the way my family felt when I went missing a year ago but safely returned, which unfortunately did not happen with Sanaya,” she said.
“You may now fly high and rest forever in our hearts.”
Dandenong South Mosque’s Imam Ismail Hyka and Liberal Member for Isaacs Garry Spencer spoke as leaders of the community.
“She will be the flower of Paradise,” Imam Ismail said.
Family from New Zealand and interstate came to Melbourne for the funeral.
On Friday, about 200 people gathered near the site where Sanaya was found for a vigil and balloon release ceremony.