The Washington Post

Funerals for Newtown massacre victims begin

— The first funeral was scheduled for Monday afternoon, but the masses began to arrive at Honan Funeral Home three hours early. The adults came in suits, and the children wore hooded sweatshirts with the Sandy Hook Elementary School logo. The parking lot filled, and traffic backed up into the center of town.

An hour before the service began, a funeral director emerged from the converted house on Main Street, stood on the porch and surveyed the scene. His business was a small operation in a small town, a two-story colonial built in 1903 and designed to handle a dozen funerals each month with a single undertaker. Now it was planning 11 funerals in the coming days and borrowing hearses from across the state. He stepped into a light drizzle and began helping to direct traffic in the street.

“This is too much,” he told a state trooper standing nearby.

Outside the funeral home was everything the mass shooting at Sandy Hook had become: gun-control protesters, media trucks, police officers and a church group from out of state reciting the names of all 26 victims at the school.

Inside the funeral home was one of those victims: Jack Pinto. Age 6. “A brave boy,” the funeral program read.

Read the stories of the Newtown shooting victims

For a few hours in central Connecticut on Monday, a national disaster became intensely intimate, and the victims of the mass shooting began to be memorialized one by one. There were two funerals and a wake for victims Monday, each service commemorating a tragedy of its own. The first was for Jack Pinto, and it unfolded to an unbearable soundtrack of grief that will continue at Honan Funeral Home for most of the coming week. A soprano sang hymns at the altar. A mother sobbed at the side of an open casket. A black hearse idled out back, waiting to transport the coffin to a cemetery up the street.

There are many ways to measure what was lost Friday morning at Sandy Hook, a school shooting that has spurred a national debate about public safety and a speech by the president. But no accounting of the damage was as searing as the one that began Monday, when parents stepped behind lecterns and spoke about the children they would miss.

A boy who loved tacos so much that he wanted to run a taco factory when he grew up.

A boy who spiked his hair with gel and sang at the top of his lungs.

A boy who adored the New York Giants and loved to wear his football jersey.

Jack lay in his casket Monday afternoon wearing that jersey, his favorite outfit, bearing the No. 80 of Giants receiver Victor Cruz. A cross was placed in Jack’s left hand, and a small stuffed shark was tucked under his elbow. Two hundred mourners crowded into a space intended for 125, and at least 50 more stood outside for the entirety of the hour-long service. They hugged one another and held umbrellas against the rain. One woman fainted and was helped out by firefighters. A young boy walking into the service suddenly turned around and buried his head into his father’s knee.

It was an extraordinary display of grief that unfolded simultaneously at two other funeral homes Monday afternoon. In Monroe, Conn., hundreds of mourners lined up for a wake to remember James Mattioli, 6. He had lived on the same block as two other victims, but on Monday, the mourners spoke only of James: how he had often asked his grandparents when he’d be old enough to order a “foot-long sandwich,” and how he wore shorts no matter the weather.

About 20 miles east, in Fairfield, Conn., more mourners gathered at a synagogue to remember the youngest victim, Noah Pozner, who had just turned 6. Police Lt. James Perez stood near the family members as they received mourners. “To see such a small casket left me literally speechless,” Perez said.

Noah’s twin sister, Arielle, who had survived the massacre by hiding for a few moments longer than her brother in a closet, sat in her parents’ laps during parts of the service. Noah’s brother, mother and uncle delivered eulogies. His uncle spoke about a boy who loved Super Mario Bros. video games and Lego Ninjago books. His mother, according to a witness, said: “Whenever I used to tell him, ‘I love you,’ his answer would be, ‘Not as much as I love you.’ ”

After the service ended, the mourners came out slowly, some dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs, others grasping their children’s hands. The Pozners released a statement. “Noah, his classmates and their heroic teacher are with God in heaven,” it read. “Now it is our responsibility to bring heaven to earth.”

Meanwhile, at Honan Funeral Home, the guests lingered after Jack’s service, standing on a sloping white porch surrounded by bare trees. Jack’s family remained alone inside for 10 more minutes, and then state troopers led a half-dozen family members out the back entrance. A hearse and two limousines were waiting, and the Pintos climbed inside.

A police car and a motorcycle formed a makeshift motorcade and led them out of the parking lot and onto the crowded street. They passed a flag flying at half-staff, a flower shop hurriedly preparing arrangements for the next funeral and the turnoff for Sandy Hook Elementary. They passed media trucks and protesters and a row of 20 Christmas trees placed in tribute, each one surrounded by wrapped presents for the 6- and 7-year-old victims.

Just after 2 p.m., the motorcade pulled into Newtown Village Cemetery, where gravediggers had been working in the rain. The hearse continued around a corner and up a hill, delivering the first victim of the mass shooting to a single hole in the ground.

Eli Saslow is a reporter at the Washington Post, where he covered the 2008 presidential campaign and has chronicled the president’s life inside the White House. He won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for his year-long series about food stamps in America.

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