Five Funerals Friday For Sandy Hook Victims

Religion and BeliefChristianityRoman CatholicismHuman InterestSandy Hook Elementary SchoolDiocese of BridgeportPort Authority of New York and New Jersey

The Christmas tree had been knocked down by Friday morning's high winds long before Carl Zencey arrived at the memorial outside the entrance of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Zencey, who has lived in Newtown for three decades, couldn't leave it like that.

So, as the wind blew and the rain came down sideways, Zencey went to work. He propped the tree up. He looked for a way to screw it back into its stand, and he asked for help.

It looked like an impossible task. But after a lot of effort and with the rain pouring down as hard as it had all morning, Zencey had the tree back up.

"I tend not to look at these things as signs or omens," Zencey said.

Soon enough, others followed suit with other Christmas trees that had fallen at the memorial.

Zencey visited the memorial after the nation observed a moment of silence for the mass shooting at Sandy Hook a week earlier. Then he left to attend another funeral. He is a parishioner of St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, where the majority of the memorial services for victims of the second-deadliest school shooting have been held.

"There are 11 funerals at my church," Zencey said.

Friday, Zencey and hundreds of others came to two more funerals at St. Rose of Lima Friday to remember Grace McDonnell, 7, and Olivia Rose Engel, 6.

Donna Stoetzner and Scott Belter had come from Salisbury to pay their respects during the funeral of Olivia and stood outside holding a floral arrangement. "We just decided to come," Belter said. "It's really devastating."

"Gracie" McDonnell loved the beach, lighthouses and seashells. Her funeral program said, "May you always have a shell in your pocket, and sand in your shoes."

Every night at bedtime, 7-year-old Grace and her mother would do their secret handshake and end it with them both saying, "hot fire," the New Haven Register reported. They called themselves "fashionistas."

When her funeral Mass began at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, it was pouring rain, the newspaper said. But as the service ended with "Amazing Grace," the sun poured through the stained glass windows of pink and purple — Grace's favorite colors. The priest wore a pink vestments, and Grace's mother, Lynn, wore a pink shawl.

Pink and purple balloons were outside the church, and as the family and mourners left the church, bagpipers played "Amazing Grace."

Next was the funeral for Olivia, who was to be the angel in St. Rose of Lima's Christmas pageant, which has supposed to be Saturday.

Throughout the service for Olivia, which lasted about 75 minutes, several people came up and placed flowers on a memorial outside.

Monsignor Robert Weiss told those at Olivia's funeral that as she lay dying in Sandy Hook Elementary, a Newtown police officer held her in his arms and said, "I love you."

On Friday, a state trooper stood at attention by the 6-year-old's closed white coffin, looking down as if watching over it, The Advocate of Stamford reported.

"If we listen really closely, we will hear Olivia speak to us," Weiss said: "'Mom and Dad, it's OK, I'm with Jesus."'

At about the same time, in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity, the sun came out just as Rachel D'Avino's sister began delivering her eulogy.

D'Avino, 29, was a behavioral therapist who hadn't worked long at Sandy Hook Elementary. She had just completed her requirements to become a certified behavior analyst, the New Haven Register reported.

"That was Rachel — a hard worker, a risk taker, a winner," her sister Sarah D'Avino said, according to the Register. "She excelled at everything she did, such as her incredible patience and ability to work with those with special needs, adults and children alike."

Dylan Hockley's public memorial service at the Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel Friday afternoon included New York City Port Authority bagpipers and purple and white balloons. Dylan's mother remembers asking him once why he flapped his arms when he got excited.

Dylan, who had a form of autism that hindered his language development, answered: "Because I am a beautiful butterfly," said Nicole Hockley, who shared the anecdote Friday, according to the New Haven Register.

She referenced the so-called "butterfly effect," a theory that the flapping of a butterfly's wings can cause a chain reaction that influences weather a world away.

"If one butterfly can cause a hurricane, then 26 butterflies can change the world," she said.

Dylan's family moved to Sandy Hook two years ago from Hampshire, England. At the end of the ceremony, everyone gathered outside the church and applauded as Dylan's parents and brother released purple and white balloons.

Late Friday morning, at St. Stephen Church in Trumbull, Sandy Hook school psychologist Mary Sherlach – who rushed the gunman who killed her and 26 others -- was remembered as a caring professional, a Miami Dolphins fan and someone who ultimately put the lives of others ahead of her own.

A standing room-only crowd filled St. Stephen to mourn Sherlach, 56, who was remembered as "very loving and caring," said Brian Wallace, spokesman for the Diocese of Bridgeport. The Rev. Stephen Gleason presided in the Mass that was also attended by former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays. He said it "was a blessing" to be present at the service for a woman who gave her life for the children of her school. The funeral was a "celebration of her two daughters and husband," said Shays.

The church was adorned with a Christmas tree and several wreaths, including one with the teal and orange colors of the Dolphins.

Gleason said her love was Christlike: "No one has greater love than to give one's life for his friends," he said. "And she did so in an attempt to save others."

An Associated Press report is included.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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