Hundreds mourn girl, 17, killed in Medford
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It was a final chance for high school classmates to say goodbye to the girl who should have graduated with them the night before.
Seventy-five classmates of Jennifer Mejia gathered around the altar Friday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church in Patchogue to bid farewell and say a few quiet, love-filled words to the 17-year-old killed in the Medford pharmacy massacre last Sunday.
Dressed in the caps and gowns they donned hours earlier for their graduation from Bellport High School, the students -- boys in blue, girls in dark pink and a few National Honor Society students in white -- formed a circle around Mejia's coffin, which was adorned with a cap and gown.
"She had a golden heart," one girl said. "She was a great girl."
A boy added, "We are all going to miss her a lot."
On Father's Day, a gunman allegedly shot Mejia, who worked as a pharmacist's assistant, and three others inside Haven Drugs on Southaven Avenue, police and prosecutors said.
Mejia's death has reverberated internationally. At her Friday funeral Mass, a bilingual service attended by hundreds in a packed church, a letter was read aloud, written by Msgr. Gregorio Rosa Chávez, the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador and a major religious figure in El Salvador, where Mejia's parents were born.
Chavez wrote that during a Mass he was celebrating in El Salvador this week, he told a group of nuns that "I asked God why he took such a special young lady." He said he was "deeply moved by the tragic death" of Mejia.
Chavez also said he met the Medford teen when she went on a Catholic Church missionary trip last year to help the needy in El Salvador. Mejia's sister, Lesly, said this week that Jennifer had donated some of her salary from the pharmacy to impoverished senior citizens she had met in El Salvador. She also sent her first paycheck to her grandmother there.
About the same time Mejia was being buried Friday, the family of another victim, customer Bryon Sheffield of Medford, 71, had private funeral services at United Methodist Church of Patchogue.
Mejia's service began -- and ended -- with her classmates forming two long lines down the center aisle to greet her as her coffin was carried into the church and as it left.
Peter Chokly, 18, a graduating classmate from East Patchogue, said, "It's basically her funeral and graduation at the same time."
During Mejia's burial at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Coram, hundreds of mourners surrounded her coffin as it was lowered into the ground. Many of them sobbed, and one girl shouted, "I love you, Jen."
Mejia was buried with her high school diploma.