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Five funerals and a wake held Friday

Connecticut Post
Updated 9:01 pm, Friday, December 21, 2012

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  • A Memorial Mass for Grace McDonnell, a student victim of the Newtown shootings, is held Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown, Conn. Photo: Autumn Driscoll / Connecticut Post
    A Memorial Mass for Grace McDonnell, a student victim of the Newtown shootings, is held Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown, Conn. Photo: Autumn Driscoll

 

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On the same day that bells rang around the country 26 times to honor the victims of Newtown school shooter Adam Lanza, two school staff members who died doing the job they loved and three students whose lives were tragically ended before they began were remembered during memorial services around the state.

The final two funerals will be held Saturday.

Adam Lanza, 20, shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School at 9:30 a.m. last Friday, killing 20 children and six staff members in a rampage that has plunged the state -- and the nation -- into deep mourning. The deadly assault has also ignited a national conversation about gun control and drawn expressions of support for the victims, their families and their community from around the world.

A memorial Mass for Grace Audrey McDonnell, 7, was held at 11 a.m. at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown. Grace was "the love and the light'' of her family, her parents said. "Words cannot adequately express our sense of loss."

Friends and family fought the pounding wind and rain to reach the sanctuary. The church filled slowly, the mood was somber yet they had come not to mourn, several said, but rather to celebrate Gracie's life. The program for the service bore images of wind-swept beaches, rolling surf and young girl with a bucket in hand and a smile in her eyes.

Rachel D'Avino, 29, a para-professional who worked with special needs children, was laid to rest today in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Watertown following her 11 a.m. funeral service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. D'Avino had begun her job at Sandy Hook less than a week ago. Her boyfriend was set to propose to her on Christmas Eve.

The young woman was a big "Star Wars'' fan. The day after Halloween she posted a photo on Facebook of herself dressed as a Jedi. Commenting to a friend, Rachel said, "I told all the kids at school "I'm a Jedi, I've been one since 1983."

D'Avino dedicated her life to helping children, her younger sister, Sarah told the crowd at a funeral for service here at the Church of the Nativity on Friday morning.

D'Avino, 29, was killed during last week's rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. A behavioral therapist who had just begun work at Sandy Hook less than a week earlier, D'Avino died while protecting children at the school. So many mourners packed the small, rustic Catholic church that a big screen TV streaming the hour-long mass was set up in another room for those that did not fit inside the worship hall.

While much life was certainly ahead of her, her sister recalled how much she had already done in her abbreviated life. "She had already accomplished so much," Sarah D'Avino said.

A memorial Mass for Mary J. Sherlach, 56, the school psychologist at Sandy Hook for nearly 20 years, began at 11 a.m. at St. Stephen Church in Trumbull. Burial will be private. With a steady rain falling, it felt like the week was ending in tears like many around the world.

The lines of cars outside the church are long as police offices from the Trumbull and Stratford departments try to direct those attending her funeral to several reserved parking lots and help groups of people walking toward the church carrying umbrellas across a busy Route 25.

Three minutes before 11 a.m. a procession of cars pulled into the driveway in front of St. Stephen Church in Trumbull. Family and friends of Mary Sherlach hugged each other as they exited their vehicles. They then stood on either side of the church's open double doors and watched as three officers walked into the dark brick church. Two held flowers and the third held the remains of the school psychologist whose life ended when she selflessly ran toward the shooter to try to stop him.

Sherlach, who'd comforted generations of Sandy Hook children, had planned for retire next year. She was killed in the school's hallway last Friday as she rushed to investigate the sound of shots being fired.

During the Mass, two of Sherlach's close friends told stories of a compassionate woman who gave her time to anyone who asked for it.

One of the men kept his eulogy lighthearted, telling funny stories and even taking off his jacket at one point and putting on a teal Miami Dolphins football jersey. He said Sherlach, a fan of Dan Marino, and her husband, Bill, would go to games often. When the crowd's enthusiasm began to wane, it was Sherlach that always riled them up all over again.

Someone had placed another Miami Dolphins football jersey on a stand to the right of the altar. A teal and orange floral arrangement sent by the team was placed nearby. To the left of the altar stood another stand containing a gray Sandy Hook Elementary School T-shirt.

Sherlach loved Dan Marino, but she lived for her job.

St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown was the site Olivia Rose Engel's funeral that started at 1 p.m. The 6 year-old loved attention, a family friend said and was "the line leader, the teacher's pet.''

Monsignor Robert Weiss told of Olivia's last moments, telling how a Newtown police officer bent down, holding her in his arms as she was still alive, and said, "I love you."

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

A closed white coffin stood in the sanctuary. A lone state trooper stood at attention by its side, looking down as if watching over it.

Dylan Christopher Hockley, 6, a native of England who moved to Newtown two years ago with his family, died in the arms of Anne Marie Murphy, his classroom aide. His memorial service started at 1 p.m. today at the Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel.

Dylan's family said everyone who met him, loved him. "His beaming smile would light up any room and his laugh was the sweetest music," they said. "He loved to cuddle, play tag every morning at the bus stop with our neighbors, bounce on the trampoline, play computer games, watch movies, the color purple, seeing the moon and eating his favorite foods, especially chocolate. He adored his big brother Jake, his best friend and role model."

Calling hours for Josephine Grace Gay, 7, will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. today at St. Rose of Lima Church. Her funeral Mass is at 11 a.m. Saturday at the church.

The little girl's birthday was three days before the shooting, and she was looking forward to her party scheduled for last Saturday. Josephine loved the color purple and was a fan of the NFL Baltimore Ravens, who wear purple jerseys. Josesphine's family had moved to Newtown from Maryland.

Ana Grace Márquez-Greene's calling hours are from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday with a service at noon at the First Cathedral at 1151 Blue Hills Ave., Bloomfield. Burial is private.

Emilie Parker's funeral is scheduled for Saturday in Ogden, Utah, where her family lived before they moved to Newtown earlier this year, according to the Standard-Examiner. The service will be held at 10 a.m. at the Rock Cliff LDS Stake Center, 1000 Suncrest Drive. The viewing will take place Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Myers Mortuary in Ogden.

Private funerals have already been held for students Madeleine Hsu and Avielle Richman.