POSTED: 01:55 p.m. HST, Jan 13, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 09:06 p.m. HST, Jan 13, 2011
TUCSON, Ariz. — The casket for Christina Taylor Green seemed too small to hold the grief and despair of the 2,000 mourners who packed into a church Thursday to say goodbye to the 9-year-old girl whose life began and ended with two soul-searching moments for the country.
Reminders of the innocence of the bubbly girl born Sept. 11, 2001 were everywhere: A group of little girls dressed in frilly dresses and white tights craned to see as their friend's casket rolled into the church and Christina's best friend sneaked them a wave from her place in the processional line.
Outside the church, more little girls — and hundreds of other people — wearing white and waving American flags lined both sides of the street for more than a quarter-mile to show their support. Hundreds of motorcycle riders from all over stood guard and more than a dozen residents were dressed as angels.
Before the service, Christina's family and closest friends gathered under the enormous American flag recovered from Ground Zero and paused for a moment of silence, holding hands and crying. White-gloved state troopers escorted family and dignitaries into the church as a choir sang hymns.
"She would want to say to us today, 'Enjoy life,'" said Bishop Gerald Kicanas, who presided over the funeral. "She would want to say to us today, 'God has loved me so much. He has put his hand on me and prepared a place for me.'"
"Her time to be born was Sept. 11, 2001," he said. "Her time to die was the tragic day, Jan. 8, 2011, just nine years old she was. But she has found her dwelling place in God's mansion. She went home."
As Christina's family grieved, new developments emerged in the case when a man walking his dog found a black bag containing ammunition that authorities believe was discarded by the suspected gunman, 22-year-old Jared Loughner.
The third-grader was one of six people killed Saturday when a gunman opened fire at a meet-and-greet event for Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot through the head but survived. Twelve others were also wounded.
Michelle Obama urged parents in a statement to talk to their children about the shooting to help them work through the questions they may have — even those who didn't know Christina.
"The questions my daughters have asked are the same ones that many of your children will have — and they don't lend themselves to easy answers," she said in a statement. "But they will provide an opportunity for us as parents to teach some valuable lessons — about the character of our country, about the values we hold dear, and about finding hope at a time when it seems far away."
At the church, the focus was on the little girl who was an avid swimmer and dancer, a budding politician and the only girl on her Little League team. Mounds of flowers — pink roses and wreaths — surrounded the closed casket and a large photo of Christina and her older brother, 11-year-old Dallas, stood at the entrance to the church.
Her father, John Green, recalled in an emotional eulogy how his daughter used to pick blueberries, loved snorkeling and played for hours with her cousins and brother behind the house, directing the activities.
He recalled how once, upon returning from a two-week trip, he found his daughter and his wife dancing in the hallway, full of life and happiness.
"Christina Taylor Green, I can't tell you how much we all miss you," her father said, according to the Arizona Daily Star. "I think you have affected the whole country."
Dante Mitchell, 8, was one of Christina's classmates who came to say goodbye and try to make sense of losing a friend he chased on the playground and battled with in break-dancing contests. He's been sad since the shooting, his mother said, and asked to bring a giant teddy bear to Christina's funeral because she loved animals.
"This was kind of a closure for him. He was in the car coming here saying he was feeling sad about it," said Leshan Mitchell, as she and her son left the service. "He said, 'Mom, I'm feeling really sad now' and I said, 'People who didn't know her are feeling sad, too, and it's OK to cry and it's OK to be angry."
Angie Yrigoyen, who knew Christina through her 11-year-old grandson Dominic, was still emotional as she left the church and said the funeral captured the little girl's spirit in a way that moved her profoundly.
"She was like a grown-up in a child's body," said Yrigoyen, 77, as she broke into tears. "I saw her as a very happy child. I hope the one thing that she brings to our city, our state and country is peace."
Associated Press writer Amanda Myers in Tucson contributed to this report.