ARRESTED: Suspect Mortimer Saunders, an old friend of the family’s, appeared in Goodwood court

The parents of Courtney Pieters, who was raped and murdered allegedly by the family’s tenant, say they want to meet with their former friend “because we need answers”.

The family were speaking after laying their three-year-old daughter to rest on Saturday morning.

The little girl from Salberau in Elsies River was found dead on a field in Epping Industria on 13 May, nine days after she went missing.

Tenant Mortimer Saunders, 40, has been arrested in connection with the child’s sickening murder.

Saunders is a childhood friend of Courtney’s dad, Aaron Fourie, and had been staying in a room at the family’s Pluto Road home for the past two years.

Heartbroken mother, Juanita Pieters, said she would not have closure until she speaks to Saunders herself.

“He was part of our lives for so long and her entire life. All my children grew up in front of him, I need to know why he hurt my baby and ripped her from me,” Juanita says.

“I just need answers, other than that I have already placed him in God’s hands. It is not for me to punish, ek los hom innie Here se hande.”

TRAGIC TASK: Juanita Pieters carries the tiny white coffin of her daughter Courtney, 3, out of her home in Salberau on Saturday morning. CREDIT: Ayanda Ndamane

Courtney’s uncle Cornelius Goliath says he and Aaron have known Saunders for 20 years.

“Aaron says he cannot accept it yet, he is unable to believe that Mortimer could, and has, raped and murdered his baby,” he says.

“This family was able to lay our loved one to rest, but he owes us an explanation. We need to know why, so we can move forward.”

There was not a dry eye in Elsies River on Saturday as about 2000 mourners came to say their goodbyes to the sweet little girl, who crept into the hearts of everyone she met when she was alive.

The family held a private viewing at 8am, when the tiny ivory coffin with gold trim arrived at their home and Juanita carried her in.

Thirty minutes later, as the coffin left the home, more than 100 bikers lined up for a guard of honour.

The hearse was escorted by a brass band and a cadet regiment as it made its way to the Adriaanse Community Hall in Halt Road, with hundreds of people lining the streets.

Aaron, standing with his six-year-old son Adrian in his arms, sobbed helplessly as his daughter left home for the last time.

At the same time, a peace march took place from Elsies River High School to the field in Bofors Circle, where Courtney’s body was found buried in a shallow grave a week ago.

Marchers held banners calling for no more violence against women and children, and “R.I.P. Courtney”.

Traffic at the Owen Road/Halt Road intersection was blocked off by traffic officers for the motorcade, which included a white hearse and six white Mercedes-Benz vehicles, to pass.

Courtney’s family stood outside the packed hall waiting for her to arrive.

Saturday was also the toddler’s sister Andrea’s 20th birthday, as well as her uncle Cornelius’.

“This was a sad day and besides thanking the Father for another year of life, there is no celebration as we lay Courtney to rest,” a sad Cornelius said.

FAMILY IN MOURNING: Father Aaron Fourie holds tightly onto Courtney’s six-year-old brother. CREDIT: AyandaNdamane

During the service, Old Apostolic Church official Ouderling Vernon Nogabie said: “Courtney did not ask to die as she did and we cannot ask God to answer why. We have to make peace.”

Courtney’s eldest cousin, Marsha Wenn, said the three-year-old was a shy child.

“Courtney rarely took anything from anyone except people she trusted and she did not trust easily. I would have to take stuff from people and give to her,” she said.

“She loved to laugh and absolutely loved making people skrik. She clung to her mother and I know, if she were here, she would be wrapped around her mother’s leg right now.”

An emotional Juanita remained seated in the same place, staring in disbelief at the coffin holding the remains of her little girl.

Courtney was buried at the Modderdam Road Cemetery in Belhar.