Arizona dignitaries and the family and friends of 9-year-old shooting victim Christina-Taylor Green gathered Thursday to celebrate her life during the first funeral service for the six people who lost their lives in last week's tragic shooting in Tucson.
Green's small casket was brought into the church underneath a flag that flew at the World Trade Center on 9/11, a tribute to a young girl who was born on the day the Twin Towers fell and died in another tragedy outside of an Arizona supermarket.
Green's family members met the casket and solemnly escorted it into St. Elizabeth-Ann Seton Catholic Church for the afternoon ceremony.
The church was filled with roughly 1,800 mourners who paid their respects to the young girl whose life was cut short as she stood waiting to meet Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. The husband of the severely wounded Giffords, Astronaut Mark Kelley, was on hand for the service, as were Arizona's two Senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, both Republicans.
Also in the pews were many of Green's young friends, classmates and Little League teammates. About one-quarter of the attendees were children, according to Arizona Daily Star's Stephanie Innes, who attended the service as a pool reporter.
"She wanted to make a difference in her life. She wanted to make her mark, and she did so in so powerful a way that even she cannot imagine," said Bishop Gerald Kicanas during his homily, adding that the slain 9-year-old was also an organ donor.
The only other speaker during the service was Christina-Taylor's father, John Green, who spoke directly to his daughter.
"You have affected the whole country," Green said, according to Innes. He also shared his thanks to the Tucson community for their support.
The somber hour-and-a-half long mass included songs by the University of Arizona choir. A friend of Christina-Taylor's sang Billy Joel's "Lullaby."
As a bagpiper played at the end of the service, Green's mother, father and brother escorted her casket back outside to a hearse waiting under the 9/11 flag.
Representatives from the New York City Fire Department brought the 9/11 flag to Arizona for the service, where it was hung from two Tucson Fire Department ladder trucks. The enormous banner includes the remnants of a 30-foot American flag that survived the 2001 terror attacks.
Christina-Taylor was the youngest of all the victims of the shooting rampage in Tucson last weekend.
The 9-year-old, who was born on 9/11, had been recently elected a member of her elementary school's student council and was intensely interested in politics.
President Barack Obama spoke about the third-grader at a memorial service in Tucson last night. "I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it," Obama said.
Her classmates from Mesa Verde Elementary School left handwritten messages alongside colorful ribbons, candles and flowers placed at the chain link fence near their playground.
School officials said crisis teams would be at the school for, "many days ... as long as we need to be here."
Many of Christina-Taylor's classmates were expected to attend the funeral, which grief experts say can be important, as long as they are prepared and a loved one goes with them.
Pat Loder understands just how tough it is to explain senseless death to children. Loder buried both her children -- 8-year-old Stephanie and 5-year-old Stephen -- in a shared coffin two decades ago this March.
A speeding motorcycle broadsided Loder's car as she attempted to turn left onto her street. Her only children died of injuries in the crash.
"It was very difficult for my daughter's classmates," said Loder, now 55 and executive director of Compassionate Friends, an international support group that helps those who have lost children.
"I am sure these kids will have nightmares," she said. "It was traumatic and violent. Ours was a sudden death, too. One day they are playing with a playmate and the next day there were gone."
"And it makes them feel unsafe," Loder said. "In their mind's eye, it's not safe to go to the corner market or to a friend's house without someone else. It's a natural part of the process."
But are these young grievers too young to attend the funeral?
"It's a very grown-up thing that happened to this little girl," said Loder. "She died, and these children are trying to make a grown-up decision about whether they want to go or not."
"Don't force them to go and don't keep them from going," she said. "They will regret it if they don't go if they feel they need to. They may not look at the casket. Let them lead the way."
Loder was so worried about her own daughter's classmates' reaction to the funeral that she arranged a closed coffin with photos of her children laid on top.