Gatto funeral

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, right, watches as his father's casket is loaded into a hearse following a morning Mass for his slain father, Joseph Gatto, who was killed earlier this month at his home in Silver Lake. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / November 25, 2013)

At a Monday morning Mass for his slain father, Assemblyman Mike Gatto fought back tears as he described the deep pain and sadness that have filled his family's days since his father was found shot to death in his Silver Lake home earlier this month.

“Our hearts are broken. We are struggling mightily to understand the dark nature of some human souls,” Mike Gatto said, before hundreds gathered at Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Los Feliz.

Joseph Gatto, 78, was found dead on Nov. 13. His home had been ransacked and he was found dead from a gunshot wound to his abdomen. The Los Angeles Police Department’s investigation into the incident is ongoing, the Glendale News-Press reported.

Joseph Gatto was an artist at the peak of his success when he died, Mike Gatto said, but his greatest accomplishment was transforming the lives of thousands of students as an art educator.

He co-founded the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts in 1985 and was honored by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1989, respectively, for his role in arts education.

Since his death, many of his students have told family members about how he changed their lives.

Many changed their Facebook profile pictures to an image of Joseph Gatto as their way to honor him.

“You played an intrinsic role in helping us get through this,” Mariann Gatto told his former students, dozens of whom attended the Mass.

“He gave, he gave, he gave, asking for nothing in return,” said Mariann Gatto, who discovered her father dead on the night they were supposed to have their weekly dinner together.

Rev. James Mott spoke of Joseph Gatto's spirituality and his daily attendance at Mass.

“Joe, a quiet, peace-loving man, didn't draw attention to himself,” Mott said. “Yet he spent his life drawing attention to the beauty we, as human beings, create.”

Joseph Gatto designed jewelry, but also took pleasure in teaching his 3-year-old granddaughter, Eliana, to paint. He called her his "angelic messenger."

He would take thousands of photos on family vacations, collect art from all over the world. He planted vines and made his own mixture of hummingbird food so he could capture the small birds on film, Mariann Gatto said during the nearly two-hour service.

“He found beauty and wonderment in everything,” she said.

The day after his father died, Mike Gatto's 1-year-old daughter, Evangelina, took her first steps, a bittersweet moment for the politician who represents Glendale, Burbank and some Los Angeles neighborhoods because he could not share the milestone with his father.

Joseph Gatto will never see his granddaughters graduate from high school nor walk Mariann Gatto down the aisle at her upcoming wedding in May, Mike Gatto said.

“Deaths like my father's are extremely difficult because nobody got a chance to say goodbye,” he said.

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brittany.levine@latimes.com