Best friends together forever in life and death

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The Independent Online
They were baptised together, every Sunday they sat in the front row of church together and yesterday best friends Joanna Ross and Emma Crozier, both 5, were laid to rest together.

Hundreds of mourners attended the girls' funerals yesterday morning in a country church, the first for the 16 schoolchildren and their teacher murdered by gunman Thomas Hamilton.

As with so many religious services held in the last six days, the congregation proved too large for the kirk. About 500 people stood outside the 19th century Lecropt Church, where the girls' families worshipped while they attended Sunday school. The sermon was relayed by speakers. The hymns they sang were children's hymns: "All Things Bright and Beautiful", "Jesus Loves Me" and the girls' Sunday school favourite "Give me Joy in My Heart".

Joanna's grandfather, Jimmy Ross, is an elder at Lecropt as is Emma's father, John. The girls were known as little characters and favourites with the Lecropt's Presbyterian congregation. Joanna's uncle, Gareth Jones, speaking on behalf of both families, and the Rev William Gilmour told the gathering that while the girls had been best friends they had very different personalities.

Emma was "quiet and biddable", Joanna, "more headstrong". The families had encouraged their friendship, sure that something of each would rub off on the other. The two girls are seen standing side by side in their class photograph.

Mr Jones offered a few anecdotes from their lives. There was the time Joanna cut Emma's hair and a professional had to be called in to right a rather botched job. The stories raised some smiles and even some laughter on a day that was otherwise stamped with sorrow.

Mr Gilmour said : "To their respective parents each child was precious, loved dearly and cared for tenderly at home. We can appreciate their high hopes for the future womanhood of Emma and Joanna." It was tragic that neither girl was allowed to fulfilled parental aspirations, he added.

Later yesterday the funeral of "blonde and pretty" Abigail McLennan, five, was held at St Blane's church in Dunblane High Street. Flowers lined the pavement outside the old church a stone's throw from the cathedral where the Queen and Princess Royal started their visit on Sunday.

As the tiny white coffin was taken from the church at the end of the service dozens of townspeople stood watching, eyes downcast and in silence.

And as mourners left, others were already arriving for the funeral of Kevin Hasell, five, also held at St Blane's. Kevin was described as a "bunch of mischief".

The funerals continue today with services for six more children. There will be four tomorrow and three, including teacher Gwenne Mayor, on Thursday.

By yesterday morning, most journalists had left Dunblane and those remaining were set to follow. There have been widespread appeals for the town now to be left alone to grieve.

Two boys wounded in the attack, Ben Vallance and Robert Purves, were yesterday allowed home from hospital. A spokes-man for Stirling Royal Infirmary said: "They will require further hospital treatment. The other three children and two female teachers who are patients in our care, are continuing to make good progress."

t This article was based on a pooled report by the Press Association