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'Love wins in Newtown'

Ana's family finds strength in faith and friends for her funeral today

NEWTOWN, Conn. -- It's like God is crying, said the blonde woman in the Yankees baseball cap, as rain lashed down on this New England town Friday morning.

A hard wind knocked over Christmas trees set up to honour the dead. Volunteers hurried to pick up tiny angel ornaments and silver balls painted with the names of murdered children. Sodden stuffed animals lay in ever-growing heaps.

Ana Márquez-Greene, age 6, loved the ballet, reading and solving math problems.


Ana Márquez-Greene, age 6, loved the ballet, reading and solving math problems.

Ana Márquez-Greene


Ana Márquez-Greene

Rosaries are lit by the morning light on a makeshift memorial near the town Christmas tree in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn.,


Rosaries are lit by the morning light on a makeshift memorial near the town Christmas tree in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn.,

At exactly 9:30 a.m., there was silence in Newtown. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy asked for a moment of reflection and then the sound of church bells ringing across his state. It was a week to the minute since the rampage began. They buried five more shooting victims here Friday. Hearses are a constant presence on the town's tree-lined streets.

The funeral for Ana Márquez-Greene, who lived half her six years in Winnipeg, is today in nearby Bloomfield. Her deeply religious family is calling this "her home-going celebration" and have asked friends and family to wear something purple, sparkly or with sequins to honour their baby girl.

Ana was one of ours. She belonged to our city, to the members of her church family, her friends, to the collective of moms and dads and grandparents of our city. She died in America, in this small, lovely town where residents believed they were out of harm's way. They were wrong. One of the first billboards you see leaving Hartford's airport directs you to a gun store. Under the circumstances, it's a sucker punch.

Newtown is where Ana died, but her parents are determined their daughter's legacy will not be defined by an act of madness. Nelba Márquez and Jimmy Greene are celebrating the girl who loved to sing and dance, the child who once claimed she was going to "teach Jesus to cha-cha."

They've set up a memorial Facebook page, filling it with photos and stories of their daughter and her brother, Isaiah.

"Tomorrow during Ana's home-going, we will light candles for all of her classmates, her principal and all of the teachers and staff who perished," Nelba Márquez posted Friday,

"We will honor the first responders. We will pray and lift up all families involved on that terrible day. Love wins in Newtown."

Earlier, she confessed she was having a tough day. "Sweet Ana, morning times are the worst," she wrote. "You used to wake up this entire house with such spunk! Remember that time I was having a hard time at work and you told me, 'Don't let them suck your fun circuits dry mom'? We are so sad without you."

Their Winnipeg friends, many of whom have flown to Newtown to support the family, say their faith will sustain them.

"Their belief in Jesus Christ is carrying them," said Karen Schroeder, whose six-year-old daughter was a close friend of Ana's. "It's a long road. Ana loved the Lord. She loved to talk about Jesus."

Schroeder and her husband met the Márquez-Greene family at Whyte Ridge Baptist Church. The women became fast friends. The Schroeders learned about the slaughter and Ana's death while they were in Fargo at a hockey tournament.

"We sobbed and sobbed in the hotel room," she said. They broke the news to their children softly.

"We told them that something really bad had happened, that someone had made a poor choice."

There is no language or tradition for this, no prescribed way to cope with the slaughter of innocents. Newtown is draped with earnest signs painted on now-sagging sheets. "Pray for Newtown," they read, strung between trees and across bridges. Cardboard angels adorn a roadside ditch; scores of stuffed bears, candles and bouquets of flowers have followed.

High school girls, giggly in one instant and weeping the next, wear brand-new T-shirts promising to live their lives with peace and faith. There is random tenderness, with residents asking strangers how they're doing, how they're really doing, and offering up a hug if it seems welcome. Coffee was free at the Demitasse café Friday morning, with a donation to the Sandy Hook School trust fund encouraged. Most store windows hold small, defiant signs reading "Sandy Hook We Choose Life." Frank's Unisex is having a cut-a-thon to raise money for the victims' families. The Queen St. Tailor's window is filled with brightly coloured stars, each printed with the name of a dead child.

Under a tarp near the school, the sweet smell of wax from memorial candles mingled with the scent of hundreds of flowers. Father Guilermo Torres stood outside in the rain, offering prayer and comfort to those who asked.

Some people are angry and beyond comfort. Lehana Mercado and John Kim drove to Newtown from the Bronx, N.Y. Mercado, the mother of a five-year-old girl, was carrying cellophane-wrapped red roses.

"I was crying, I couldn't sleep," when she heard the news of the murders. "I won't recover. I don't think America will recover, either. It shouldn't."

Ashley Perrault came to the memorial with her boyfriend and their four-year-old daughter. The little girl goes to a Catholic school. Her mom thought she'd be safe there. Now she wonders if Kiersten will be safe anywhere. They were just babies, she keeps repeating.

Musician Paul Pontillo said he grew up in a rough neighbourhood, where violence was expected. Not here, he said, not in this town that looks like a Norman Rockwell painting.

"My greatest fear is to know now that this could happen anywhere," he said.

The Newtown slayings are this decade's 9/11. The mass murder was a monstrous assault on what we hold sacred, on our sense of personal safety and on the previously held belief that children too young to have enemies are free from deliberate harm. These slayings will shape us and our children for generations.

The Márquez-Greene family is determined they will not crumble from their sorrow.

"Our shining hope is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. From this we take comfort that you are in a way better place than any of us," Ana's mom wrote. "I miss you so much. I'm going to do everything I can to remember and remind everyone that love wins. I already talked to the governor and the President. I would much rather talk to you though. I love you Ana. Daddy and your brother miss you too."

When U.S. President Barack Obama met the families of the victims, one Winnipeg friend said, Márquez showed him pictures of her two children. He joked that Isaiah's ears stuck out like his, but assured Márquez her son was better-looking. They both cried while they hugged. Obama left with photos of Ana and Isaiah.

Newtown is a place of sorrow now. Flags are flying at half-mast and there are too many dark suits and solemn faces. So many dead. So many shattered families. Today, Ana Márquez-Greene is being sent home.

"Ana was very beautiful," her mother wrote Thursday. "She was also very smart. She was reading at a 6th grade level. She loved math picture problems. She loved arts and crafts. She loved ballet. She loved people fiercely.

"Every day off the bus, she used to wait for us to give her mami and daddy hugs. Now she waits to receive us in heaven. We can't wait for that hug. Love wins."

Don't let them suck your fun circuits dry. Love wins.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2012 A6

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