Grief should be a grown-up's burden.
But 8-year-old Trinity Verbeeck stood sobbing yesterday outside St. Peter's Catholic Church, in Northern Liberties, her flouncy, white-lace dress and long curls soaking up the rain as she gazed at the black hearse idling in the street.
Inside lay the tiny, white casket of her best friend, Gina Marie Rosario. No more would the girls dance together or play princesses, as they'd done since their diaper days, when their mothers became neighbors and fast friends.
"We just still can't believe it," cried Trinity's mother, Sheri, as her daughter - too distraught to talk - buried her wet cheeks against her mother's waist.
Killed last week in a horrific car crash caused by an accused robber fleeing police, 7-year-old Gina was laid to rest yesterday. Her funeral Mass drew hundreds - many in T-shirts picturing a smiling Gina and proclaiming her "Heaven's newest angel" - to the church at 5th Street and Girard Avenue.
While children were few in number among the mourners, their presence was mesmerizing, a heartrending reminder of what was lost, how fragile life is and how randomly tragedy picks its victims.
"Oh, Lord! Keep the other children safe!" wailed Gina's grandmother Elsa Rosario, as she clutched Trinity to her bosom outside the church after the service.
Gina, of Kensington, had been visiting her grandmother's rowhouse and playing on the sidewalk with 6-year-old Aaliyah Griffin on June 10 when one of two teens who police allege hijacked a motorcycle lost control of his car as he fled police.
Donta Craddock's speeding car hurtled onto the crowded sidewalk at 3rd and Annsbury streets, where Gina and Aaliyah played under the watchful eyes of resident LaToya Smith and her 11-month-old baby, Remedy. The two girls died on the scene; Aaliyah's funeral was Tuesday. Smith, 22, and Remedy died within hours at city hospitals; their funeral service is today.
At Gina's funeral yesterday, Tammy Rosario remembered her daughter as an enthusiastic student who loved watching televised wrestling, playing outside and dressing up in her mom's clothes and shoes.
"The two of us could talk about everything and share all of our thoughts about everything," Rosario, who is deaf, signed, as an American Sign Language interpreter translated her flying hands and fingers. "Gina, we will always love and miss you, and we will be together in heaven one day. Gina, you are my angel, and you will always be in my heart."
Father Kevin Moley urged listeners to find comfort in faith.
"When you deal with the deaths of three little girls and a mother, I can see and feel the bleeding of the mind and heart and spirit," Moley said. "There is no strength, there is no comfort, unless we come to the Lord Jesus Christ and say: 'Lord, heal your people. Give us strength. Give us hope.' "
He looked toward the front pew where Rosario sat weeping.
"I have no doubt, Tammy, that that child of yours is alive in the kingdom of God," he said. "She's not sick, she's not hurt, she's not destroyed. She's living at the House of God the Father. . . . She's living with the saints and angels."
Rosario and Gina's father, Luis Rosario, laid their hands on their daughter's casket as the Rev. Luis Centeno, of Wyoming Avenue Baptist Church, offered a prayer in Spanish.
Red-faced and weeping, Tammy Rosario rested her cheek on the casket before ushers carried it to the waiting hearse.
Earlier, during her eulogy, Tammy Rosario had signed the lyrics to Gina's favorite song: Beyonce's "Halo." As the little girl's casket disappeared into the hearse, the song lyrics seemed particularly poignant:
Everywhere I'm looking now
I'm surrounded by your embrace
Baby, I can see your halo
You know you're my saving grace
You're everything I need and more
It's written all over your face
Baby, I can feel your halo
Pray it won't fade away. *