Conn. teacher 'laid down her life for her friends'; funerals for shooting victims continue
NEWTOWN, Conn. — A single bell tolled Thursday at the Connecticut funeral of a 6-year-old girl killed by a gunman at her elementary school, while a cardinal in New York compared a slain teacher to Jesus for giving up her life to protect others.
In Newtown, the site of the shooting rampage, grim-faced mourners hurried through the packed parking lot of St. Rose of Lima Church to attend the funeral Mass for 6-year-old Catherine Hubbard.
Catherine's family said in her obituary that she would be remembered for her passion for animals and her constant smile.
Catherine was among the 20 students and six teachers killed when Adam Lanza, armed with a military-style assault rifle, broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14 and opened fire. Lanza killed his mother at her home before the attack and committed suicide at the school as police closed in.
Funerals were also scheduled in Connecticut on Thursday for 7-year-old Grace McDonnell and 6-year-olds Benjamin Andrew Wheeler, Jesse Lewis and Allison Wyatt, and a memorial was held for teacher Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau.
In New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan told mourners at the funeral of 52-year-old Anne Marie Murphy that the teacher "brought together a community, a nation, a world, now awed by her own life and death."
Murphy's father, Hugh McGowan, said authorities told him that she died trying to protect her young pupils. Her body was found covering a group of children's bodies as if to shield them, McGowan said.
Dolan underscored her sacrifice.
"Like Jesus, Annie laid down her life for her friends," Dolan said. "Like Jesus, Annie's life and death brings light, truth, goodness and love to a world often shrouded in darkness, evil, selfishness and death."
About 15 people arrived at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Katonah, N.Y., in a yellow school bus with "Newtown" written on its side. The church quickly filled and about 100 mourners waited outside.
Murphy's brother-in-law Thomas Newman read a brief statement before the service.
Her relatives "pray, for all the families touched so terribly, that God may help these feelings of such great pain and grief pass quickly; that they be replaced with only happy thoughts and joyous memories of those we have lost," they said.
Janelle Wingert, of Wyoming, said in an email interview that she met Murphy when they were involved in the same faith-based community service activities in the Newtown area. She said Murphy asked her after 9/11 what she would do if someone attacked a school where she was working.
"She was serious and so intense in the question," Wingert said in a Facebook post. "She died doing exactly what she said she would do — put herself between the gunman and her little ones, who she saw as the most precious of all in God's heart."
Trinity Episcopal church on Newtown's Main Street was filled to capacity for the funeral of Benjamin Wheeler, and scores of mourners who couldn't get in milled about outside on a chilly day. The service for a child described as a lighthouse buff, budding musician and Beatles fan included a rendition of "Here Comes The Sun" and the hymn "Amazing Grace."
Benjamin's five uncles acted as pallbearers. About two dozen Boy Scout leaders lined the front pathway to the church in honor of the former Cub Scout.
Mourners filed into the ornate white-pillared First Congregational Church in downtown Danbury for a memorial service for teacher Lauren Rousseau.
The congregation in the packed church sang "Morning Has Broken" and "Let There Be Peace On Earth."
Friends wept on the altar as they remembered the spirited, hardworking, sunny-natured young woman who loved children and animals, especially cats, and who had always wanted to be a teacher. They spoke of how the 30-year-old brightened their lives with her silliness and gave them all nicknames.
A U.S. Justice Department official told The Associated Press on Thursday that Attorney General Eric Holder will travel to Newtown on Friday to meet with first responders and law enforcement officials. The trip comes after Holder met with Vice President Joe Biden, who is tasked with leading an administration-wide effort to create new proposals for reducing gun violence.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the trip hadn't been publicly announced.
In addition to the services, the families of 6-year-old Olivia Rose Engel, behavioral therapist Rachel Marie D'Avino and school psychologist Mary Sherlach have calling hours Thursday.
At least nine funerals and wakes were held Wednesday, and more are set for Friday and Saturday.
Associated Press writer Frederic J. Frommer in Washington, Jim Fitzgerald in Katonah, N.Y., Christina Rexrode in New York, Helen O'Neill in Danbury, Conn., and Eilleen AJ Connelly and Tom Hays in Newtown contributed to this report.
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