When pallbearers closed Manuel Vela’s casket Tuesday just before his funeral, grief exploded inside his church.
His grandmother broke into a wail that nearly froze the more than 500 people who turned out for the 14-year-old’s funeral.
Standing at the front of the church, Oralia Vela cried and yelled angrily in Spanish, prompting a wave of tears throughout the congregation. Relatives swarmed around the woman, but her desperate weeping continued to echo through the church.
“God give her the strength she needs to get through this,” said one woman, rocking a young girl in her arms at the back of the church. “Help this family, God.”
Priests responded to the outburst by starting the funeral 15 minutes early, while people kept squeezing inside. They filled the pews, stood in the aisles and sat on window sills. Nearly 100 more spilled onto the sidewalk, where they planted themselves in the rain and peered on tip-toes through the church’s foggy, stained-glass windows.
The turnout Tuesday at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church didn’t surprise Vela’s family.
“He is so loved,” said Emilio Vela, the boy’s uncle. “People adored Manuel.”
Vela was killed last week, when a classmate opened fire in the middle of an algebra class at Frontier Junior High School. Teacher Leona Caires, 49, and student Arnold Fritz, 15, also were killed. A third student, Natalie Hintz, was wounded.
Tuesday’s service was conducted largely in Spanish, with a small choir singing upbeat songs to the jingling of a tambourine.
Deacon Frank Martinez told the group to forget asking why such a tragedy occurred and instead focus on healing. Vela’s death should remind them that “the gospel needs to be present in every child’s life,” he said.
“It is so sad that it took something like this to put Moses Lake on the map,” Martinez said. “But now we must remember Manuel and make sure it never, ever happens again.”
Students, released early from school to attend, moved around the crowded church, hugging each other and holding hands. So many flower arrangements flooded the altar that relatives had trouble finding space for them all.
“So many people are here because he made so many people happy,” said Gloria Rodriguez, a Vela family friend. “He always knew just how to make you smile.”
Relatives said Vela, a popular student who liked baseball, also knew just how to get his way: He pouted. It worked so well that he was nicknamed for it, they said.
“He’d pout and act all sad when he didn’t get his way or when he wanted something,” Emilio Vela said, smiling. “His friends started saying, ‘Oh, you’re such a baby, you’re always acting blue.’ So then they called him Baby Blue.”
The name stuck, inspiring Vela to start wearing lots of light blue clothing, his uncle said. The color dominated the church on Tuesday - blue balloons, blue flowers, blue lining for Vela’s casket.
Dozens of written messages from Vela’s classmates covered the church walls. Magic markers were passed around as people came in. Eventually, more blue poster boards were brought in for additional signatures.
“I’m sorry you didn’t get to see your life, Manuel,” one note said. “But God is on your side now.”
Below that, someone left another unsigned message in small, shaky print: “Manuel, please come back.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SERVICES Remaining services for those killed in last week’s shootings at Frontier Junior High include: Arnold Fritz. Memorial service will be at 1 p.m. today at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Moses Lake. Leona Caires. Funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Pius Catholic Church in Coeur d’Alene. A final rosary is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Yates Funeral Home. All victims. A community memorial service will be held at Big Bend Community College Gymnasium on Sunday at 4 p.m. The service is sponsored by the Moses Lake Ministerial Association, Moses Lake School District, the Hispanic Community Forum and the City of Moses Lake. Contributions. The Frontier Junior High Memorial Fund has been established for victims’ families through First Interstate Bank, P.O. Box 1116, Moses Lake, 98837.