Noah Pozner loved tacos, so much so that he talked of wanting to be the manager of a taco factory when he grew up; that way, he would be able to eat a taco whenever he wanted. He had a way of charming his elders and loved his siblings, including a twin sister who was in another classroom that day.
Jack Pinto adored the New York Giants and proudly wore a red Little League cap adorned with a large N for the name of his hometown. He was a spinning top of a boy, bouncing from one activity to the next, as if the day could never contain all the fun to be had.
The people of Newtown buried these two boys under an ashen sky on Monday afternoon, in the first of the many funerals to follow last week's massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. They were both six years old.
The realization that Jack and Noah were gone settled like the December chill upon the Honan Funeral Home in Newtown, where a Christian service was held for Jack, and upon the Abraham L. Green and Sons Funeral Home in Fairfield, where a Jewish service was held for Noah.
An 8-year-old boy named Nolan Krieger, dressed in khaki pants and a plaid dress shirt, captured the intensifying sense of loss as he left the service for his friend Jack. "I used to do everything with him," Nolan said, rubbing his eyes. "We liked to wrestle. We played Wii. We just played all the time. I can't believe I'm never going to see him again."
The how of their deaths is, by now, internationally known. A 20-year-old man named Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother on Friday morning. Then, armed with an assault rifle and two handguns, he shot his way into the elementary school and killed 20 first-grade children and six school officials, all women, before killing himself.
The why of their deaths, though, is still being pieced together. The school remains a crime scene, and law enforcement officials said they expected to spend weeks, if not months, investigating angles and interviewing witnesses - including children - to develop the complete, unsettling picture.
First, though, there was Monday, just after Hanukkah, a week before Christmas Eve - and the first school day after the devastation in the classroom on Friday.
In Fairfield, about 25 miles south of Newtown, mourners formed a somber queue outside the two-story, white-clapboard Green funeral home. Many were from Temple Adath Israel, the Pozner family's synagogue in Newtown. Dannel P. Malloy, the governor of Connecticut, and one of its U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal, were also there.
A little girl in a pink hooded coat, clutching a floppy stuffed animal, served as a reminder of the innocence lost, as a couple of bomb-sniffing dogs did, in their own way.
Lt. James Perez of the Fairfield Police Department said that nonspecific threats of protests at the funeral home, coupled with "stupid comments" on the Internet and on social media, had prompted the unusually large police presence. "You have to prepare," the officer said. "Newtown wasn't warned either."
Perez said that he had been inside, and had spoken with the family - as best as he could. "To see it be a child, it's just beyond _" he said, adding, "I didn't have any words."
During the service, Noah's teenage brother, Michael, spoke for himself and for his other siblings. Diane Buchanan, the mother of one of Michael's friends, said the young man had to pause to gather his emotions as he spoke. "We no longer have a brother," she recalled him saying, "but now we have a guardian angel."
Noah's mother, Veronique, also eulogized Noah, and talked of his boundless aspirations. In addition to taco-factory manager, she said, he also wanted to be a doctor. Throughout, observers said, she spoke with a remarkable poise that seemed meant to help others cope with the loss.
"But the main thing she left was one point," said Rabbi Edgar Gluck. "She said that whenever she told him 'I love you,' his answer to her was: 'Not as much as I love you."'
Buchanan said that as Noah's mother spoke, "There wasn't a man, woman, or child who had a dry eye. And it was beautiful."
Meanwhile, to the north, the final respects being paid to another boy was creating a pause in everyday life along Main Street in Newtown.
A sign on the front door of the general store said that someone was treating everyone to coffee. Nearby, in the old town hall, a woman talked into her cellphone about ways to help children in their grieving. And right outside, police officers directed traffic in front of the Honan funeral home - two-story and white-clapboard, just like the funeral home in Fairfield.
Before the service, Shannon Krieger, a close friend of Jack Pinto's family, talked about how wonderful it was that Victor Cruz, the New York Giants wide receiver, had written tributes to Jack, including "Jack Pinto My Hero," on his cleats and gloves. Then she walked into the funeral home, holding poster-board photographs of Jack in one hand and wiping tears with the other.
For nearly two hours, mourners waited in line outside the funeral home, their breaths forming puffs in the chilly, wet air. Many adults kept a hand on the head, or shoulder, of the children beside them.
Many of the mourners were boys, often wearing shirts and windbreakers that announced their Newtown allegiance. Some wore expressions of confused loss. Others, especially the younger ones - at the age of 6, say - played out their nervousness, dodging around a tree, stepping on one another's shoes, being boys.
At the side of the funeral home, a group of young men and women sang a sweet, even soothing, version of "Amazing Grace." After a while, the group, from Huntsville, Ala., walked down the street, still singing, and piled into a white van.
"We're going to another funeral," said one of the singers, Adrian Rolle. "A boy named Noah."
Inside, another friend of the Pinto family, a bereavement counselor named Mary Radatovich, eulogized Jack. She talked of how he commanded all attention the moment he was born, signaling that "I am here and I am something special." She recalled his moments of boyness that led to all those visits to the emergency room.
And she spoke to Jack's 10-year-old brother. "Now he will be with you, Ben, for the rest of your life," she said. "Think of him every time you catch a football, hit a baseball, or hug your mom and dad."
The service ended. A police officer stepped out into Main Street, raised a hand, and stopped a Ford Focus station wagon. A black hearse and a long trail of cars pulled out.
Past the old town hall. Past the Cyrenius H. Booth Library. Past the American flag at half-staff, and the soaring white spire of the Newtown Meetinghouse, and New England houses with candles in the windows.
Past the "Pray for Newtown" signs and the makeshift memorials, to the Newtown Village Cemetery, and thoughts of tombstones with a birth year that seems like yesterday: 2006.
© 2012, The New York Times News Service