With his eyes clenched shut, knelt behind a pew to pray at the beginning of Jaclyn Santos-Sacramento's funeral mass on Tuesday morning.
Just then, a young Hispanic boy crawled along the pew and looked at him, puzzled.
The child was one of many at a service where another child was the focus: Jaclyn was 5 years old when with her mother and two brothers on Labor Day. has been charged with driving under the influence during the crash.
Though the tragedy shook the community, the children at Tuesday's service still didn't quite grasp it, even with Jaclyn's casket right in front of them. One young girl, wearing a t-shirt with a peace sign pattern, stacked Bibles as her parents somberly followed along with the service. Another lay beneath her parent's pew, tracing shapes into the wood at the bottom.
A baby in the back slept throughout the service in a carrier on the floor. His mouth and eyes softly closed, he was perhaps the only source of serenity in a room otherwise filled with red eyes and the sounds of muffled sobs. The only time the baby stirred was when an elderly woman's dress flapped next to him as she stood up, blowing a burst of air towards a small face that would sniffle, twitch and let out a tiny sneeze.
Unfortunately, the adults knew all too well what was going on. Before the service, Jaclyn's parents, Modesta Sacramento and Tomas Santos De Jesus, stood in front of their daughter's open, white casket with arched brows, their hands perpetually wiping away fresh tears. Sacramento could only wipe with one hand; the other was still in a cast and sling, another reminder of last week's crash.
embraced Sacramento, both of them sobbing. stood for a long moment in front of the open casket, his head bent toward's Jaclyn's. Shortly after he took his seat, the casket was closed. Jaclyn's mother let out a loud, pained cry.
Then, the funeral mass began.
'A very kind child'
During the bilingual service at Saint James Parish in Highwood, Rev. Thomas Baldonieri called Jaclyn "a joyful child" who enjoyed dressing in pink, like a princess.
"Jaclyn was born and received into loving hands and hearts," Baldonieri said. "Even now, we see just how many people are touched by Jaclyn's life and tragic death, even those who never met her."
The hour-long service included prayers recited by Baldonieri as well as guests like , the executive director of Family Service, which has offered to provide free grief counseling to Jaclyn's family.
"This tragic accident has had an enormous impact," Dean said after the service. "All of us just want to be here to support Modesta and Tomas."
After the service, Jaclyn's parents followed their daughter's casket out into the bright, cloudless daylight. The roughly 100 attendees that included friends and family as well as members of the and city staff watched silently as Jaclyn's body was placed into a hearse. Then her parents, still quietly weeping, stepped into a pickup truck the same white as the casket and were driven off.
One attendee who seemed visibly shaken by the service was Tatiana Alonso-Melchor. She helped organize the that brought . The same woman who exuded strong-willed confidence at last week's walk was at a loss for words as she watched Jaclyn's parents drive off.
"The family can at least have peace," Alson-Melchor said, her voice quavering. "She's in a better place now."