The Bloomfield community said its final goodbyes Friday to Christina Lembo, almost one week after the 16-year-old soccer player was killed in a tragic car accident just blocks from her home.
Beginning and ending with the trill of a single bagpiper, the hour-long funeral mass was held at the Lembo family's church, St. Thomas the Apostle, packed with at least a thousand mourners.
Lembo, a junior at Bloomfield High School who played varsity soccer and on traveling teams, died early Sunday morning after the car she was in the backseat of collided with another on Broughton Avenue shortly after 11 p.m. Saturday.
Flanked by sons Anthony Jr. and Joseph, Lembo's mother, Theresa, quietly looked on from the church steps Friday morning as pallbearers whisked her daughter's white casket into the hearse. After the funeral, a crush of Bloomfield High School students congregated outside the church, crying and consoling each other, while the entire school stood along Broad Street to watch Lembo pass by one last time.
"It's a terrible day, but I'm so proud of people to offer assistance, love and compassion to the Lembo family," said Mayor Raymond McCarthy after the funeral. "I'm overwhelmed by it."
The mayor also applauded Bloomfield High School Principal Chris Jennings for his role in dealing with Lembo's death and the impact it's had on the school. Last Sunday, the school was opened up to grieving soccer players and parents and crisis counselors have been readily available to students all week.
The teenager's death has rocked the entire community and beyond, with an overwhelming showing of support Sunday night at a candlelight vigil, just hours after Lembo died at University Hospital in Newark. Classmates and teammates remembered her as a stunning soccer player and scholar in the classroom who was always smiling.
Bloomfield students, as well as those in Belleville, have worn Lembo's soccer number, No. 3, painted on their faces and on tee shirts in her honor.
On Friday morning, the corner of Broughton Avenue and Walter Street, where the crash happened, was still brimming with candles, teddy bears, flowers and handwritten notes. Four white tents have been set up to cover the memorial and police have cordoned off nearby side streets to non-residential parking.
"I hope you're happy with daddy. I miss you so much, and no one could ever replace you," wrote Deanna Laterza, Lembo's best friend since kindergarten, on a poster filled with photos of the two smiling in formal wear and soccer uniforms.
Lembo's father is said to have died in recent years.
The accident is still under investigation and the case will be presented before a grand jury, said Katherine Carter, spokesperson for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, Friday morning.
Lembo will be buried in Glendale Cemetery.
[Editor's note: This story originally published at 3:15 p.m. Friday. It has since been updated.]