(MCT) — NEWTOWN, Conn. — At the Village Cemetery, a freshly dug grave lay waiting. At the funeral home, the mourners gathered, many of them children in sports jerseys — clothes that might be unusual for some funerals, but not for this one.
Newtown began burying its dead Monday, starting with Jack Armistead Pinto, a sports fanatic with an impish smile. In Fairfield, about 20 miles away, family and friends gathered to remember his classmate, Noah Pozner, the youngest of the 20 children killed when a gunman opened fire in their elementary school. Both boys were 6; Noah had celebrated his birthday Nov. 20.
This was a day Newtown was dreading, and it was only the beginning. In a town with just one funeral home, 25 more victims still wait to be laid to rest — including six adults who worked at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy Lanza, whom he shot dead in their home before going to the school, killing the children and committing suicide.
“You see tiny coffins and your heart has to ache,” a tearful Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said after attending Noah’s funeral, where mourners slowly passed the wooden coffin. Some reached out to touch it, running their hands over the Star of David carved into the lid.
At the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, church staff were consoling families of the eight children from the parish who were killed. “It will be a very difficult week,” said Brian Wallace of the Bridgeport diocese. Large wreaths were arranged at the front of the church, which had the first of its funerals scheduled Tuesday. At least five will be held at St. Rose, of the 11 taking place in Newtown.
“We’re all pretty numb,” said Celia Pinzi, a funeral director in West Haven, Conn. She was one of several in town over the weekend helping the Honan Funeral Home manage the crisis. “I think as the reality of the wakes and the memorial services begin, that will really cement things,” said Pinzi of the grief enveloping Newtown.
That grief was on full display Monday, a cold, damp day. The only color seemed to come from the umbrellas sheltering black-clad mourners who waited in a cold drizzle to enter the funeral home for Jack Pinto’s service. Adults clutched one another in long hugs, many sobbing.
Children fidgeted next to their parents or chattered with their friends, hopping around to stay warm as they waited to enter the funeral home. Many of the boys wore football or wrestling jerseys to honor Jack, whose family described him as a fan of flag football, baseball, basketball, wrestling and skiing, with a “giving spirit and steely determination.”
Shane Miller, a Newtown resident, stood at a distance, watching people slowly make their way up Main Street to the funeral home. “These were just babies,” said Miller, who has grandchildren the same age as most of the victims. “Every Christmas we’re going to be reminded of this.”
As the service ended, mourners got into their cars and lined up behind a hearse holding the tiny casket, and a limousine with tinted windows carrying Jack’s family. Then, Main Street fell silent as the procession made its way down the hill, past the town Christmas tree and the flagpole, its banner at half-staff, toward the Village Cemetery.
At Noah Pozner’s service, relatives spoke of the boy’s penchant for video games and assembling elaborate Lego sets. “He was curious about everything in life,” said his uncle, Arthur Pozner, who remembered Noah quizzing him on “high technical” things, like how appliances worked.
But Noah could also be a typically energetic kid. Ray Di Stephen, whose 6-year-old son Jack was one of Noah’s playmates, described the pair stacking boxes up in Jack’s room and then winging Angry Birds-themed pillows at the boxes. “He was a really cool kid,” said Di Stephen.
Veronique Pozner spoke directly to her son. “I will miss your forceful and purposeful little steps stomping through our house. I will miss your perpetual smile, the twinkle in your dark blue eyes, framed by eyelashes that would be the envy of any lady in this room,” she said, according to The Associated Press.
“Most of all,” she continued, “I will miss your visions of your future. You wanted to be a doctor, a soldier, a taco factory manager. It was your favorite food, and no doubt you wanted to ensure that the world kept producing tacos.”
Two more funerals were scheduled Tuesday in Newtown: for Jessica Adrienne Rekos, who enjoyed horseback riding, learning about orcas, writing and playing with her little brothers; and for James Mattioli, who was known for singing at the top of his lungs. James once asked: “How old do I have to be to sing on a stage?” Like Jack and Noah, both were 6 years old.
(Times staff writer Christine Mai-Duc contributed to this report.)