Children wiped away tears and hugged their parents for support. Mourners wore kelly green ribbons to honor the favorite color of the 11-year-old boy killed last week while he was going door-to-door for a school fund-raiser.
About 600 people turned out for a funeral Mass on Saturday for Eddie Werner, who was sexually assaulted and strangled."You don't have children to have them die like this," said one mourner. "It's horrible."
The 45-minute Roman Catholic service ended with Werner's parents and younger sister walking arm-in-arm down the aisle behind his casket.
The boy was killed Sept. 27 while selling candy and wrapping paper for a PTA fund-raiser. A sixth-grader at Christa McAuliffe Middle School, he was hoping to win a walkie-talkie set by selling the most merchandise.
Sam Manzie, 15, who lived nearby, has been charged in the killing. Three days earlier, a judge had refused Manzie's parents' request to have him committed to a psychiatric institution, saying a "positive attitude" was what was needed to improve the teen's erratic behavior.
According to a transcript of the Sept. 24 hearing in family court in Ocean County before Superior Court Judge James N. Citta, the teen had been having fits of rage.
In Saturday's church service, tears flowed from the moment the closed casket, draped in a white linen cloth embroidered with crosses, was rolled up the aisle as a 15-person choir and accompanying organist sang the hymn "Be Not Afraid."
The parents, Valerie and Edward Werner, were accompanied by 9-year-old daughter Kellie as they made their way to a front-pew seat. Their other two children, 6-year-old Thomas and 3-year-old Laura, did not attend.
Gov. Christie Whitman and her husband John sat in the first pew on the opposite side of the aisle. There were no eulogies. The church's pastor, the Rev. Casimir Ladzinski, was the only speaker.
He said Eddie - who was born Christmas Day, 1985 - loved to go to Mass and had recently decided to take a more active role in the church's religious education program.
Recalling the boy's baptism, he said: "God made a promise that Eddie would live forever. We say, `God, be God. And take care of Eddie forever. Forever. Forever.' "