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Mike Gatto at father's funeral: 'Our hearts are broken'

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

"Our hearts are broken. We are struggling mightily to understand the dark nature of some human souls," the Democrat from Silver Lake said before more than 550 people at Our Mother of Good Counsel Church in Los Feliz, where Joseph Gatto's coffin was covered in a white cloth.

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His 78-year-old father, Joseph Gatto, was found dead on Nov. 13 in his Silver Lake home after an apparent home invasion. Coroner's officials have confirmed that he died from a gunshot wound to his abdomen, and the Los Angeles Police Department's investigation into the incident is ongoing.

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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 Joseph Gatto's death, many of his students have told his family members about how the educator changed their lives.

Several have asked Joseph Gatto's daughter Marianna Gatto to be friends on Facebook and have changed their profile pictures to an image of Joseph Gatto.

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"You played an intrinsic role in helping us get through this," Marianna Gatto told his former students, dozens of whom attended the mass.

"He gave, he gave, he gave, asking for nothing in return," said Marianna Gatto, who discovered Joseph Gatto 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."

Not only did Joseph Gatto design artistic jewelry, but he also loved visual arts and enjoyed teaching Mike Gatto's 3-year-old daughter, Elliana, whom he called his "angelic messenger," to paint.

He would take thousands of photos on family vacations, collect art from all over the world, and he even planted vines and made his own mixture of hummingbird food so he could attract them and capture the small birds on film, Marianna 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.

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Joseph Gatto will never see his granddaughters graduate from high school nor walk Maryann 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.

-- Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

Follow on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine

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