Family, friends, strangers reach out during funeral service for slain Gary boy

2011-05-20T20:00:00Z 2011-06-01T14:20:35Z Family, friends, strangers reach out during funeral service for slain Gary boyBy Pete Nickeas, (219) 933-4183

GARY | Christian Choate's memorial service started with a song, and then a prayer.

"We are here to grieve. To grieve with the family, and grieve with the community," Pastor John Hoffmaster said. "Because what was done here, was done among us."

Children fidgeted. Adults tried to hold back sobs. Most bowed their heads while Hoffmaster spoke.

Police exhumed a body believed to be Christian's less than three weeks ago from a shallow grave in a mobile home park blocks from the Ridgelawn Funeral Home.

More than 150 people gathered there Friday night to remember Christian, who authorities say died a brutal death at the hands of his father and stepmother more than two years ago.

His disappearance went unreported, until a tip led police to investigate.

"How did I not know him? How did you not know him? How did this escape our attention?" Hoffmaster asked.

Christian's mother, Aimee Estrada, exchanged tearful hugs with family, friends and strangers before the service.

Nearby, photo albums showed a story of Christian's life different from that laid out by prosecutors, who say Christian spent his final days in a dog cage and too weak to walk from being restrained at the ankles.

A card in one album commemorated his birth: He was 21 inches long when born Dec. 27, 1995, at 3:30 p.m. He weighed 7 pounds, 3 ounces.

The photos showed him as a baby, in a Winnie-the-Pooh Onesie. In a later photo, he's dressed as a Kit-Kat bar for Halloween. He played youth baseball for the Indians and liked to swim.

People wept as they walked past a casket in the chapel and waited outside for Christian's closest family members to finish paying their respects. Christian's mother kept her hand atop the coffin and cried.

Next to the casket sat a small flower arrangement -- white chrysanthemums and red carnations with a large red bow -- and a card that read, "To Christian, you're safe now."

Roberta Nicksich, of Munster, clutched her chest as she left the chapel.

"I don't even know him. I don't know the family, or the friends, but you feel like we all have a purpose," she said. "Maybe his was to show us really how important love is."

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