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Town still as April laid to rest
The devastated mother of April Jones sobbed in grief as she finally laid her murdered daughter to rest.
The closely-knit market town of Machynlleth in mid Wales came to an absolute standstill as the youngster's tiny coffin made its final journey from her home to the packed church where her funeral was held today.
Almost a year on from April's cruel and brutal killing by paedophile Mark Bridger, her family - and an entire community - were united in grief.
Her ashen-faced parents were joined by at least 200 people on foot in a show of solidarity as their daughter's funeral procession left the Bryn-y-Gog estate.
Mother Coral, 41, dressed in a pink and black striped top, sobbed audibly as she made her way to sit at the front of the service, as 44-year-old husband Paul walked by her side acknowledging the pats of compassion and nods of encouragement.
And as mourners held each other for support, the Rev Kathleen Rogers said: "We know that there are no words we can say at this moment to express what we are feeling.
"No words can alleviate our sorrow or take away our pain."
It is almost a year since April was snatched as she played just a few yards from her terraced home - which she also shared with 10-year-old brother Harley and older sister Jazmin, 17.
Earlier that evening, the youngster had been allowed to stay out a little later than usual following a glowing report from teachers at her primary school.
It was then that the father-of-six Bridger conned April, who was friends with one of his daughters, into his Land Rover before speeding off.
He then fled back to his remote cottage in Ceinws, where it is thought April suffered a violent death.
Despite a mountain of evidence stacking up against the former abattoir worker, including fragments of a child's skull in his fireplace, Bridger vehemently claimed he could not remember what he had done with April.
Following a month long trial at Mold Crown Court, a jury rejected his lies and a judge sentenced him to a whole life tariff.
It means Bridger will die behind bars.
However, the ordeal of April's family was far from over.
With the absence of her body, they had to wait months before a coroner could release what little remained of the schoolgirl - a process which heaped more grief onto Coral and Paul.
But finally, five days short of the first anniversary of her death, her shellshocked loved ones could at last say their goodbyes.
The funeral cortege began its journey from April's home as neighbours and relatives - all dressed in April's favourite colour - pink, tried to hold back the tears.
Family and friends gathered at the house at the Bryn-y-Gog estate, where a memorial garden has been made to commemorate the schoolgirl.
Silence descended upon the street the very moment two white horses, decorated with pink ribbons, pulled a white carriage containing April's coffin through Machynlleth.
Mothers clutched tissues and their children tightly as the hearse decorated with the name April in pink flowers, began the trudging journey through the rural town centre - which was stopped in its tracks.
Shops and pubs were emptied as their customers lined the streets and bowed their heads in silent respect.
The coffin arrived at St Peter's to Emeli Sande's Read All About It played on loudspeakers outside the church.
Mourners filled the church and the graveyard outside, forming a sea of pink lining the path, as the coffin was carried into the church by pallbearers including Paul's stepfather Dai Smith, Coral's best friend Tracy Evans and Paul's brother Phil Jones.
Among them were members of the mountain rescue team and senior police who had helped in the hunt to find April - which became the biggest search operation in UK history.
As they arrived, a poignant montage of images of the five-year-old played on a 50 inch flat screen TV taken from the family's own album of images.
Showing a new-born April smiling out at the world, they included photographs of her lying on a beach and playing in the countryside.
And the service where pink floral arrangements had been brought by mourners, saw prayers, psalms, readings and hymns - but no eulogies.
Ms Rogers told the congregation: "It's a bittersweet moment. Our hopes and dreams have changed because April has been taken from us.
"But you know, we come also with a sense of thanksgiving for the many ways that April touched our lives and those with whom she came into contact.
"For a five-year-old she touched a great many lives ... for Paul, Coral, Jazmin and Harley, April was and is extra special.
"Today, here in this place, she is linking us all together in grief. Yet, grief goes hand in hand with love.
"In whatever way we express our grief, it shows our love for April.
"And surely that is the most important thing for any human being of whatever age, simply to be loved."
A poignant poem reflecting on the devastating abduction of April before her tragic fate was known was read by Sian Calban, a teacher at the primary school she attended.
Written by local man Jim Marshall and called simply April, it begins: "On this beautiful sunlit autumn day, A desperate sadness casts long shadows, across our anxious and questioning world.
"Time and mischance have conspired, To inflict the cruellest of evil fates, on an innocent and trusting infant."
A second poem, by the same author, and called An Autumn Night, was read out by church warden Joyce Price.
A short message from the family printed on the back of the order of service simply said: "Paul, Coral, Jazmin and Harley would like to say a big thank you to everyone for their overwhelming kindness, sympathy and support during this sad, sad time."
The brief message was flanked by a drawing of three sunflowers held together by a bright pink bow.
Pink floral tributes were also placed at the entrance of the church by well-wishers, carrying heartfelt messages of sympathy for April and her family.
One stated: "Fly high little angel, forever in our hearts, lots of love, Lorna, Boyd, Connie, Ella and Ewan."
Another pink bouquet carried the message: "Always in our thoughts. We will never forget you darling April. Jamie, Eirwen, Jamie jnr."
But despite the palpable sense of loss, April's family insisted that some good should come from the tragedy - donations at the funeral are to be used to pay for a five-year-old Ugandan schoolgirl's education.
Many gave generously as they filed out of church, one tearful elderly woman saying: "It's for dear, dear April."
After the service, April's family left the church with close friends and family for a private burial.