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Mourners gather for 1st Nashville school shooting funeral

HANDOUT VIA AP
                                This undated handout photo shows Evelyn Dieckhaus a student at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn. Dieckhaus was one of six people killed on Monday, March 27, in the shooting at the school.
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HANDOUT VIA AP

This undated handout photo shows Evelyn Dieckhaus a student at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn. Dieckhaus was one of six people killed on Monday, March 27, in the shooting at the school.

WADE PAYNE / AP
                                A man and young boy carrying several plush toys leave the funeral service held for The Covenant School shooting victim Evelyn Dieckhaus at the Woodmont Christian Church Friday, March 31, in Nashville, Tenn. The toys were donated by an anonymous donor for all the children in attendance.
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WADE PAYNE / AP

A man and young boy carrying several plush toys leave the funeral service held for The Covenant School shooting victim Evelyn Dieckhaus at the Woodmont Christian Church Friday, March 31, in Nashville, Tenn. The toys were donated by an anonymous donor for all the children in attendance.

HANDOUT VIA AP
                                This undated handout photo shows Evelyn Dieckhaus a student at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn. Dieckhaus was one of six people killed on Monday, March 27, in the shooting at the school.
WADE PAYNE / AP
                                A man and young boy carrying several plush toys leave the funeral service held for The Covenant School shooting victim Evelyn Dieckhaus at the Woodmont Christian Church Friday, March 31, in Nashville, Tenn. The toys were donated by an anonymous donor for all the children in attendance.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. >> Family and friends of Evelyn Dieckhaus, one of three children who were killed in a school shooting in Nashville this week, remembered her Friday as a “shining light” and said farewell to a girl who loved art, music, animals and snuggling with her older sister on the couch.

The funeral at the Woodmont Christian Church in Nashville’s Green Hills neighborhood was closed to the media. Before the service, the church’s senior minister, the Rev. Clay Stauffer, echoed what Evelyn’s family has shared about her.

“She was a shining light. She was radiant,” Stauffer told The Associated Press. “I think our challenge is to take her light and keep spreading it to a world that has so much darkness and pain.”

Evelyn’s was the first funeral held for the victims of Monday’s mass shooting at The Covenant School, where authorities say a 28-year-old former student killed six people before being shot and killed by police.

The church is a couple of miles from the school and is across the street from the Woodmont Baptist Church, which served as the reunification point for surviving children and their parents after the attack.

Dozens of people poured into the Woodmont Christian Church’s main sanctuary for the service. Many of the women and girls wore pink dresses to honor the grieving family’s request to dress in pink and green “in tribute to Evelyn’s light and love of color.”

With the pinkish-purple flowers of redbud trees blooming and mourners donning pastel colors, it looked as much like an Easter service as a funeral for a 9-year-old girl who brought joy and comfort to her loved ones.

The other two children killed in the attack, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, were also 9. The three adults who were killed were the 60-year-old head of the school, Katherine Koonce, a 61-year-old custodian, Mike Hill, and Cynthia Peak, a 61-year-old substitute teacher.

In an obituary given to The Associated Press by a family friend, Evelyn was described as “a constant beacon of joy” who loved crafting and drawing, playing with her two dogs Mable and Birdie, singing along to tunes by Taylor Swift and from the Broadway show “Hamilton,” and hanging out with her beloved big sister, Eleanor.

Stauffer, the minister, said he has been trying to impress upon Evelyn’s family, whom he described as “incredible people,” that they’re not going through this alone.

“We’ll celebrate her life this afternoon, and then we’ll continue to show up and to be there to love and support the family,” he said.

That work started as soon as the ambulances, fire trucks and police cars went past his church on the day of the shooting. He went across the street to Woodmont Baptist to help reunite the frightened children and parents.

“It’s been surreal and a nightmare that we are waiting to wake up from,” said Stauffer. “It’s been one of the hardest weeks you could imagine.”

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Associated Press reporter Adrian Sainz in Memphis contributed to this report.

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