In the procession of vehicles that weaved through the streets of this small New England town for Nancy Lanza's funeral Saturday, a bumper sticker bore the signature statement:
"We Are Sandy Hook. We Choose Love."
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But in the emotional months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Nancy Lanza, mother of the 20-year-old killer, has not always been the recipient of that love. Although she was a victim of her son's rampage that day, she has been looked at differently from the other victims.
But Saturday was her day.
More than 100 people filled the First Congregational Church of Kingston for Lanza's funeral to hear those closest to her — including her oldest son, Ryan — speak about her life. Nancy Lanza, 52, was the first of the 27 victims Adam Lanza fatally shot on Dec. 14 before killing himself. The massacre was the second-deadliest school shooting in American history.
Ryan Lanza, Adam's brother, and his father, Peter Lanza, who also attended Saturday's memorial for his former wife, have kept a low profile since the shooting.
Some of Nancy's friends said it was important for them to show support for Nancy Lanza.
The remembrance brought together Lanza's family from throughout New England and the friends she met at her favorite Newtown restaurant, My Place Pizza & Restaurant. Lanza's Connecticut friends met in the early-morning hours at the restaurant to carpool for the nearly 200-mile trip to Kingston, Nancy Lanza's childhood home.
Mark Tambascio, owner of My Place, said he was relieved that the memorial service was finally taking place. Shortly after the shootings, Nancy Lanza's body was cremated in Haverhill, Mass. Saturday, her ashes were brought to Greenwood Cemetery, near the church.
Those inside the church said Adam Lanza was mentioned once — by his brother — at the church when Ryan Lanza described his mother's devotion to her sons in a speech that friends said moved many to tears.
"He seemed so strong, and seeing that made it so emotional," said John Bergquist, a close friend of Nancy Lanza.
Though his father wept while listening to his son, Ryan never broke down in tears, only pausing at moments to gain his composure. Adam Lanza killed 20 first-graders and six women with a semiautomatic rifle, and then killed himself as police arrived. He shot his mother to death at their Newtown home before driving to the school. Police have not indicated whether they've determined a motive for her slaying or those at Sandy Hook Elementary.
"I just feel for [Ryan]. He's gone through hell. He lost his mother and his brother died and is the perpetrator of this," Bergquist said.
"It came right from the heart," Tambascio said about Ryan's speech. "I loved what he said at the end. He said, 'Even though she's gone, everything's going to be OK,' " adding that the memory of his mother would remain in his heart and mind.
Nancy Lanza's sister, Carol Gould, said the family waited to have the funeral out of respect for the families of the other victims.
"We're glad to finally be able to say goodbye to her," Gould said. "We've been waiting to give her this send-off."
Lanza's brother, James Champion, is a retired Kingston police captain and current member of the Rockingham County Sheriff's Department. Mourners gathered at Champion's Kingston home Saturday, where law enforcement officers reviewed security precautions. The officers urged those in attendance to alert police if strangers showed up at the service. Security was tight outside the church, and police cruisers led the procession from Champion's home to the service. Media were not allowed inside the church.
Before the church service, the 30-car procession traveled to the cemetery where Lanza's friend, Erica Schwichtenberg, played the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere" on her violin at Lanza's gravesite.
Friends said Lanza would often ask Schwichtenberg to play the song at open mike night at My Place. Schwichtenberg played other songs at the service while another Connecticut friend, Kristin Ryan, sang and played guitar.
"It meant absolutely everything," Schwichtenberg said after the service. "She was a special lady in our lives."
Following a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace," mourners placed colorful roses at the gravesite, including an elderly woman who was assisted by Peter Lanza as Lanza's current wife, Shelley Cudiner, looked on.
Family members —including Nancy's mother, Dorothy Hanson — remained at Lanza's grave as friends walked to their vehicles to resume the procession. Bergquist said he saw the Sandy Hook bumper stickers as he traveled to the service. And he said he had Sandy Hook remembrance magnets on his car.
"We share in the grief of the town, and mourn every day for the families, but Nancy was a part of that tragedy for us. In that sense, we showed our love for Nancy today," Bergquist said.
He described the Newtown contingent as "some of her closest friends."
"We were there to celebrate her life. I'm glad I made the journey to do this."