Funeral for nine-year-old Evelyn Dieckhaus will be first for Nashville shooting victims

<span>Photograph: Justin Renfroe/EPA</span>
Photograph: Justin Renfroe/EPA

The first funeral service was held on Friday afternoon for the victims of the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Nashville, as the shocked and grieving city continued to mourn the dead after the horrific attack.

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Friends and family gathered to memorialize nine-year-old Evelyn Dieckhaus who will be laid to rest on Saturday in a private burial. Her loved ones described the sporty girl who loved art, music, animals and snuggling with her older sister, and invited guests to the funeral service to wear pink or other joyful hues in tribute to her “love of color”.

The funeral at the Woodmont Christian church in Nashville’s Green Hills neighborhood was closed to the media, but before the service, the church’s senior minister, the Rev Clay Stauffer, said of Evelyn that, “She was a shining light. She was radiant.”

She was one of three children and three staff, including the school principal, who were gunned down last Monday by a 28-year-old who had previously attended the private Christian school and burst in armed with semi-automatic weapons. The shooter was killed inside the school by police.

In addition to Dieckhaus, those killed at the Covenant school were Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, nine, head teacher Katherine Koonce, 60, Mike Hill, 61, a custodian and Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher.

More funerals will take place this weekend and into next week.

On Friday, dozens of people poured into the Woodmont Christian church’s main sanctuary for the service. Mourners donned pastel colors, with many of the women and girls wearing pink dresses to honor the family’s request.

Stauffer, the minister, said he has been trying to impress upon Evelyn’s family, whom he described as “incredible people”, that they were not going through this alone.

“We’ll celebrate her life this afternoon, and then we’ll continue to show up and to be there to love and support the family,” he said.

In an obituary shared by a family friend, Dieckhaus was described as “a constant beacon of joy” who loved art, music, animals and snuggling with her older sister on the couch.

“While she was the boldest force on any given basketball court or softball diamond, Evelyn also gave the gentlest hugs and was a world-class snuggler. She was both a determined, natural leader and an easy-going supporter,” her obituary published in the Tennessean newspaper said, also describing how the nine-year-old was a deep thinker but also liked making funny faces.

The obituary also noted that she had an angelic voice. It added: “Another great passion of hers was music. Whether she was singing along to her favorite songs (especially from her well-played Hamilton or Taylor Swift albums) or composing her own songs on the piano, guitar, or ukulele, Evelyn had a wonderful sensibility for music.”

The text also noted that her sister Eleanor was her best friend and Evelyn also loved her dogs, Mable and Birdie, and wanted a rat for her 10th birthday present.

“Strong but never pushy, she had self-composure and poise beyond her years,” the obituary said.

She is survived also by her “devoted parents”, Katy and Mike Dieckhaus, and her maternal and paternal grandparents.