Nearly 1,000 people gathered for a funeral service Saturday in Campbellton, N.B., for Noah Barthe, 4, and his six-year-old brother, Connor, who were killed by a python in an apartment above an exotic pet store last weekend during a sleepover.
A single tiny blue casket sat at the front of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, a symbol of their brotherly bond.
The boys were inseparable in life and their mother wanted them buried together, Campbellton's Deputy Mayor Ian Comeau told CBC News.
The bodies of Noah and Connor were discovered on Monday. They were killed by a 45-kilogram African rock python, which had escaped from its glass enclosure in an apartment above Reptile Ocean.
"Were they taken from us too soon? Absolutely. But how much time would have been enough?" asked Nadine Poirier, who delivered the eulogy with fellow family friend Melissa Ellis.
They remembered Connor as a protective big brother, who adored all animals, saw only the good in people, was was "wise beyond his years."
They told the near-capacity group of mourners they will miss his "huge bear hugs," his "smile and dimples that would have brought him far in life" and waves from the school bus every morning.
'The boys are continuing to change people, help people and heal people's hearts, including ours.'—Melissa Ellis, eulogist
Noah was described as being the quieter brother, but one who was quick to laugh out loud, loved to play dress up and to make "silly faces."
He "never did anything halfway," they said, and he dreamed of becoming a basketball player.
They were both "angels" who loved to snuggle.
"Boys, oh boys, we loved those boys," said Ellis, who fought back tears.
"If people all over the world are feeling even a fraction of what we felt over the almost seven years of knowing the boys —inspired, lucky, blessed, hopeful — then our hearts are full," she said.
"The boys are continuing to change people, help people and heal people's hearts, including ours."
Celebration of life
Before the hour-long funeral, the deputy mayor said the service would celebrate the boys' short lives.
"The priest has mentioned it will be a message of hope and of continuation of life, a celebration of life for our two global angels," Comeau said.
Father Maurice Frénette, a former military chaplain who has been to Afghanistan, told CBC News he has seen his share of tragedy, but he found it difficult to find words for this case.
"How can we prepare for such a service? There's not really any way to prepare," said Frénette, the interim pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, who met with the boys' parents, Andrew and Mandy, in the last few days.
"There's basically no words that can express the pain."
During the service, Frénette said the parents' lives have been changed forever. "No one here can feel what you feel, but I am sure that everyone here feels for you, for what you are going through."
He thanked the grief-stricken parents for the love they have for their sons. "Maybe they had a short life, but they had a happy life and you are a big part of that," he said, before taking a moment to comfort them, laying his hand on the father's shoulders as he sat with his head in his hands.
Frénette said the family did not request any specific hymns or prayers, and left it up to him. Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland was the processional.
The service was a time to console, Frénette said. There won't be any answers to the many questions surrounding the case until after the two boys are laid to rest, he said.
Sadness and anger
The boys were having a sleepover with the son of the pet shop's owner, Jean-Claude Savoie, when they died.
It's believed the python made its way through the top of its enclosure and into a ventilation system before falling through the ceiling and into the living room of the apartment. The animal was 4.3 metres long and weighed about 45 kilograms.
Savoie's son was sleeping in another room and was unharmed.
The tragedy shocked the tight-knit community. About 1,000 people attended a candlelight vigil Wednesday night.
Comeau said emotions continue to run high.
"It went from sadness to anger when the news broke on Monday. The vigil certainly helped a lot of people. The people were able to … start to talk and laugh. But it is a sombre moment and it is going to be a rough day for the family, for close friends," he said.
Condolences from around the globe
There were long lines at Maher Funeral Homes, just down the road from the church, with people paying their respects before the funeral.
Meanwhile, an online guest book has more than 600 signatures from people around the world offering condolences.
"There are more mourning for these beautiful boys than you will ever know," wrote Vanessa Coleman, of Buckinghamshire, England.
"Your little men will be missed by many, and forgotten by none," wrote Kim Davenport, of Campbellton.
"May you find strength and peace in knowing what great parents, grandparents, uncles you were to two beautiful little boys. Their smiles clearly showed how much they were loved and enjoyed life … even at such a tender age," wrote Karen Belliveau, of Moncton.
"Heaven has gained two angels who will watch over you and take care of you until you meet again," wrote Janet and Jeannine LeBlanc, of Campbellton.
A preliminary autopsy found the boys died of asphyxiation and a criminal investigation is ongoing.
"I think the message will be passed here again today in this church that, you know, it was an accident. Let's not rush to judgment," said Comeau.
The shop owner, "Mr. Savoie, he is a human being and you know, he is suffering, he is grieving, so everyone is grieving as well for Mr. Savoie," he said.
"Let the investigation conclude itself."
Steven Benteau, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, told CBC News on Tuesday, a day after the boys' bodies were discovered, that African rock pythons are not permitted under the province's Exotic Wildlife Regulation.
On Friday, 27 illegal animals, including some endangered ones, were removed from the Reptile Ocean building by provincial Department of Natural Resources officers, along with representatives of the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton and Peterborough's Indian River Reptile Zoo.
Four of the animals — large American alligators — had to be euthanized on site because no zoos were able to accommodate them, officials said.
The yellow police tape around the pet store was removed and the shop returned to the owner.
The coroner's office in New Brunswick has said there will be no decision on whether to have an inquest until after legal proceedings are complete.
During a stop yesterday in Miramichi, N.B., Prime Minister Harper called it a "strange and terrible event," adding everyone feels "very deeply" for the boys' family.