NEW YORK — The youngest of the 26 victims killed in Sandy Hook Elementary School late last week was laid to rest Monday, in the first of dozens of tearful services planned in the shattered town.
Noah Pozner, who turned 6 in November, was killed when a 20-year-old gunman went on a shooting spree at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. All 20 children murdered in the rampage were in the first grade at the well-regarded school.
Noah was the first child to be buried after the Friday attack, in keeping with Jewish tradition that requires quick burial. Jack Pinto, also 6, was being buried shortly afterward on Monday.
A rabbi presided at Noah’s service, and in keeping with Jewish tradition, the boy was laid to rest in a simple brown wooden casket adorned with a Star of David.
“If Noah had not been taken from us, he would have become a great man. He would been a wonderful husband and a loving father,” Noah’s uncle Alexis Haller told mourners.
Haller described a smart, funny and mischievous child who loved animals and Mario Brothers video games, and liked to tease his sisters by telling them he worked in a taco factory.
“It is unspeakably tragic that none of us can bring Noah back,” Haller said. “We would go to the ends of the earth to do so, but none of us can. What we can do is carry Noah within us, always. We can remember the joy he brought to us. We can hold his memory close to our hearts. We can treasure him forever.”
In front of the funeral home where relatives were mourning Noah, well-wishers placed two teddy bears, a bouquet of white flowers and a single red rose at the base of a maple tree.
Rabbi Yisrael Deren, regional director for Chabad-Lubavitch in New England, said thousands of local residents lined up outside the funeral home shortly before Noah’s funeral to pay their respects.
“The streets are blocked off in all directions. There are unquestionably thousands of people. Streets are jammed,” he told The Times of Israel.
Deren has accompanied the Pozner family since Sunday, offering consolation and prayer. He is no stranger to the Pozner family’s experience. He lost three children to cancer and other illness. A friend of the Pozners asked him to come to Newtown to help comfort the bereaved family.
The family is reeling from the shock, he related.
“At this point, the parents are devastated. It’s an unbearable loss. There are no words to describe the depths of the pain. The mom especially is just absolutely… beyond words.”
But, he said, they have each other, and they seem to understand that.
“You have to pull yourself together. They have [four] other children.”
Noah had a twin sister, and the school’s decision to separate the children into different classrooms saved her life on that fateful Friday.
“She’s a 6-year-old and it’s very difficult to know what goes on in a child’s mind,” Deren said of the twin. “Outwardly you see tears, but she’s a happy little girl.
“We’ve found that the only way you can truly alleviate the pain in your own life,” Deren said, “is by alleviating it in others’ lives. The first thing we resolved” after each child passed away, “was we would do everything possible that we could to take away other people’s pain. For us to reach out to another family in these horrible, horrible circumstances, and offer what support we can, watching not just their pain but at the same time their courage, never fails to give us courage as well. I think it’s true of every aspect of life.”
Deren was also present when President Barack Obama’s visited with the families on Sunday in an interfaith vigil for the victims. He praised the president’s “compassion and humanity.”
“I was overwhelmed actually by the way he interacted with the family members. He was speaking from his heart, and you could see he was fully with them.”
The attack shook the nation Friday, eliciting heartfelt responses from national leaders and trending for days on Twitter as millions reacted on social media.
There are few in Newtown untouched by the disaster.
“Within probably half-a-mile radius of my house, four victims,” one resident told an ABC affiliate station Sunday.
“You went to school with them, you had church services, and soccer practices,” said Taylor Ansbro, a former Sandy Hook Elementary student.
“We’ve known these children since they were in daycare,” said local resident Rebekah Stites, “and they are our family.”
Along with the outpouring of support and grief, some help is coming as well. Stites is among the founders of the My Sandy Hook Family Fund, established to help families cope with the long-term effects of losing a child.
“We’re so limited in what we have to offer, but this is something that we can do,” cofounder Judy Destefano said.
The Jewish community, too, announced immediately after the shooting it would be looking to raise funds to help families with their immediate needs, including funerals for the first-grade victims.
“The Jewish family service has created a list of available therapists in the community. I’m sure we’re going to open a [fundraising] line to help families [pay for] burials and things like that, things they never planned for with kids at this young age,” Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut executive director Shelly Katz told The Times of Israel Friday.
Memorials, some small, have been established throughout the town. On Sunday, the community erected 26 decorated Christmas trees for the victims. Residents have been leaving gifts for the victims under the town Christmas tree.
The attack was also dragged into a tiff by the attention hounds of American popular culture, with the Westboro Baptist Church promising to picket Sandy Hook Elementary School and Sunday’s vigil “to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment,” and the online hacker group Anonymous retaliating by making public Westboro members’ identities, including home addresses and phone numbers.
A petition to recognize Westboro as a hate group garnered over 103,000 signatures by Monday morning on the White House’s “We the People” website.
In his own moment with Obama, Deren raised a suggestion originally made by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, “that every school begin the day with a moment of silence, where a child could pray if they wish, or focus on a higher good. Of course we have separation of church and state in this country. But children should still grow up with the understanding that there is more to living than amassing wealth, prestige or pleasure.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.