NEW YORK, N.Y. – Reactions on a New York City sidewalk ran the gamut Thursday when pedestrians were forced to squeeze around a wall of photographers and videographers lined up outside a church behind a metal barrier with New York City policemen standing guard.
The people wanted to know what was going on. They seem amused, excited and intrigued.
But the answer was dark: It was the funeral for the three children who died Christmas morning in a Stamford fire. The bodies of 10-year-old Lily Badger and twins Sarah and Grace Badger, 7, arrived later in a trio of hearses.
One woman's eyes widened dramatically and her jaw dropped when she was told the news. She glanced toward the church and then hurried away. Other faces grew grim and lips pursed. Inexplicably, some pedestrians smiled and nodded, seemingly excited at the prospect of being so close to a national news event.
A small crowd gathered to watch.
Policemen closed the block of Fifth Avenue in front of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Pedestrians were told to wait or to cross the street if they wanted to move ahead.
Life on Fifth Avenue paused. The funeral procession approached. The hearses parked at the end of the block, at the traffic light, one to a lane in front of the church. Madonna Badger, the children's mother, got out of a limousine with Michael Borcina, the friend who survived the fire with her. They watched as the caskets were taken up the church's steps, cameras snapping in their direction.
Then the mourners went inside, the funeral began and the bustle resumed on Fifth Avenue. News photographers booted up their laptop computers to send photos to their editors for immediate publication. Some admired the work their compatriots had onscreen.
A woman said she wanted to go into the funeral but was turned away. Cynthia Moore said she didn't know the children; she just wanted to be there. She chatted about how sad the whole thing was and said she had gone to a funeral several years ago for three children who had died in a car accident, to get the printed eulogies. She wanted the eulogies for the Badger children, too.
Others studied the scene. "They didn't want Santa Claus to burn," one said, referring to news reports that hot embers were removed from the fireplace and placed in a bag to protect Santa when he came down the chimney. "Look what happened."
When the hearses were moved to the front of the church, passersby had a different question: "Who's the funeral for?" One man rolled down the window of his cab to ask, then looked shocked at the answer.
As police closed the street at the conclusion of the funeral, a larger crowd formed. Across the street from the church, families gathered around and behind the few photographers who weren't part of the army near the mourners.
"Do you know what you're witnessing?" one woman asked sharply.
"It's mind-boggling," one woman said of what Madonna Badger must be going through.
As they watched the caskets come out to be loaded into the hearses, Madonna Badger lost her composure briefly. Then clergymen blessed the caskets, and the funeral was over.
A young girl stood at the front of the crowd that had formed across the street. Her cheerful animal hat was contradicted by the expression on the face below it — a face streaked with tears.