TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - Hundreds of people gathered to say farewell on Thursday to a bright 9-year-old who loved to dance and play baseball, but was gunned down when she went to learn about politics from her congresswoman.
Christina Green was the youngest victim of a shooting spree last Saturday that claimed six lives and left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords battling for her life. Her funeral was the first to be held.
Hundreds of mourners including a group of leather-clad bikers and several of Christina’s classmates began lining both sides of the road outside St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church ahead of her funeral at 1 p.m.. A church bell signaling noon broke the quiet as mourners waited for the service.
Family members escorted the small wooden coffin into the church in silence for the service, which was closed to the news media. They filed out to the solemn strains of a piper.
“She showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age,” President Barack Obama said in an emotional address to thousands of people crammed into a Tucson sports stadium to mourn on Wednesday evening.
“I want to live up to her expectations, I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it, I want America to be as good as Christina imagined it,” he said to applause and roars of approval.
The lively youngster was born on September 11 2001, the day of suicide aircraft attacks on New York.
A stars and stripes flag pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center in the days after Christina’s birth was brought in to hang between two fire truck ladders.
The top student, who was elected to her class council, was the granddaughter of former pro baseball manager Dallas Green.
She loved dancing, gymnastics and swimming, and hoped to be the first woman to play major-league baseball.
‘MY FIRST FUNERAL’
It was the first funeral for William Moody, a 9-year-old classmate of Christina’s who was with his grandmother, Lynnette Moody. It was not the funeral he expected to attend first, he said.
“It’s like my grandma said, she thought my first funeral would be for an old person who had a full life,” he said. “It’s weird not having her in school.”
The Bishop of Tucson, Bishop Gerald Kicanas, gave a blessing inside the church, as mourners offered each other consolation outside.
“We’ve all been affected in Tucson,” said Maggie Parisoff, 35, a crisis counselor roving through the crowd outside the church to offer help to anyone in need.
Her funeral will be followed on Friday by that of federal judge John Roll, who was gunned down alongside her after he called in at the “Congress on the corner” event to see Giffords, who was a friend.
Police arrested a 22-year-old college dropout, Jared Lee Loughner, for the killings.
He made his first court appearance on Monday, and faces five federal charges, including the attempted assassination of Giffords.
The congresswoman remains in critical condition in hospital.
Giffords opened her eyes on Wednesday, during a visit by two close friends from the U.S. Congress.
Editing by Greg McCune
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