The scenes were heartbreaking: six white caskets adorned with bright bouquets, floral arrangements with teddy bears, and a homemade sign with the simple message "Stay Strong."
An overflow crowd gathered Wednesday at the funeral for six members of a Texas family who were murdered last week.
The caskets of Stephen and Katie Stay, and siblings Bryan, 13, Emily, 9, Rebecca, 7, and Zach, 4, were arranged at the front of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in suburban Houston in front of large photos of each.
Katie Stay's uncle, Randy Cousins, painted a touching picture of a tight-knit family led by a mother who loved to celebrate.
"She will forever be our Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way," he said.
The mourners included the sole survivor of the ambush, 15-year-old Cassidy Stay, who smiled as she took her place, and Melannie Lyon, who is Katie Stay's sister and the ex-wife of the man accused of killing the family in cold blood.
David J. Phillip / AP
Cassidy Stay gestures as she arrives at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the funeral service for her family Wednesday, July 16, 2014, in Houston.
The six were murdered July 9 in their Spring home, tied up and shot in the back of the head. Cassidy was also shot but survived and called 911 to warn that the suspect, Ronald Lee Haskell, was gunning for other relatives.
At a memorial service over the weekend, Cassidy Stay tearfully told mourners that her family is "in a much better place and that I’ll be able to see them again one day."
And the program for the funeral service echoed that sentiment with slogan "Families can be together forever" above a photograph of the Stays before tragedy visited their home.
Stephen Stay's brothers described him as a man who put family first.
"Stephen desperately wanted to be a good provider," Roger Stay said through tears.
Jeff Stay said Cassidy, his niece, wanted those gathered to know that her father loved the drums and "was known as the bug smasher." Her brother Bryan, "loved his tablet," and brother Zach adored sea life.
Katie's younger sister, Aubrey Westwood, also delivered messages from Cassidy about her siblings. Emily loved Hello Kitty, and Rebecca's nickname was Becca Boo, except on the Wii, where her user name was 'coconut.'"
"Becca was worried that Zach would get bigger than her," Westwood said.
Her voice cracked as she continued: "He passed her a little bit ago."
From left to right: Cassidy Stay, 15, survived being shot in the head and called police after a gunman executed her sister Rebecca, 7; mother Katie, 33; sister Emily, 9; dad Stephen, 39; and brothers Zach, 4, and Bryan, 13.
Bishop Scott McBride told the brave surviving teen that her family would always be with her.
"You have a family of guardian angels looking over you," he said.
Elder Bradley Foster said, "in this world, good will always triumph over evil...Cassidy Stay had to stay, to carry on the family name."
Mourners said they were trying to focus on the lives of the Stays, not their deaths.
Church organist Marilyn Johnson said her children made the big "Stay Strong" sign, fashioned out of blue plastic cups.
"It's bright thoughts for a bright family," she told NBC News.
"The Stay family was strong and that's the kind of strong we need to be."
Johnson said when she heard there had been a shooting at the Stay home, she fell apart even before she knew all but Cassidy had been killed.
"My knees buckled and I went to the ground," she said. "Then my faith kicked in. Thank goodness for my faith, for our faith. It has sustained all of us."
First published July 16 2014, 10:42 AM