Mournful crowd bids farewell to Autumn

Mourners embrace at the funeral, which took place two days before Autumn would have turned 13.
Mourners embrace at the funeral, which took place two days before Autumn would have turned 13.
Posted: October 28, 2012

Autumn Leigh Pasquale "rode her bike like the wind" and "played soccer the same way," yet she also was "a wise girl with a good heart and older than her years," Msgr. Michael T. Mannion, a family friend, told a standing-room-only crowd of mourners Saturday at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Glassboro.

The blond, freckle-faced girl with a mischievous grin and sparkling eyes was laid to rest late in the afternoon at Cedar Green Cemetery in Clayton, her hometown, two days shy of her 13th birthday.

It had been seven days since Autumn disappeared while riding her white BMX bicycle, prompting an intensive, two-day search of her neighborhood by hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officials.

On Monday evening, the girl's body was found in a recycling bin a few blocks from her house. Two brothers who live near the bin, Justin Robinson, 15, and Dante Robinson, 17, have been accused of strangling her and were being held on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, disposing of the body, tampering with evidence, and theft.

The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office has said that Autumn went to the Robinsons' house after Justin had invited her to exchange bicycle parts.

There was little discussion of these details in the long lines of mourners who began arriving shortly after first light Saturday morning to pay their respects to Autumn's family and say goodbye one last time to "the little girl who was big of heart," in Mannion's words.

From 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., a procession estimated by one police officer at 2,500 people formed an orderly line that stretched from the front door of the large concrete-block church with blue metal roof all the way to the back stairs.

The family, including Autumn's father, Anthony Pasquale, and mother, Jennifer Cornwell, entered the church at 7:30 a.m. to begin five hours of greeting mourners.

Many wore blue-and-gold T-shirts with the picture of Autumn that has become familiar to much of the region since she disappeared.

The T-shirt read "Autumn Pasquale: Forever in Our Hearts."

Others wore buttons with the photo.

There was a heavy police presence, primarily for traffic control, with officers from Gloucester and Camden Counties as well as the New Jersey State Police. Two motorcycle patrolmen from Washington Township led the funeral procession from the church to the cemetery after the two-hour Funeral Mass.

Parking was at a premium at the church and along Greentree Road all day. Many of those attending the viewing parked at the shopping centers a half-mile up William Dalton Drive and walked.

The county prosecutor's office, at the request of the family, had asked the news media not to enter the church and to keep their distance. Most of the mourners declined to be interviewed, saying that, in the words of one, "the family had been through enough."

He did say, however, that the church's side aisles had been lined with poster boards on easels covered with photos of Autumn's busy life.

One board showed her at First Holy Communion at Our Lady of Lourdes, standing proudly with her godparents and parents.

There was a floral tribute from her soccer team, the Clayton Comets, near her casket, which was also covered with photographs. A soccer-ball balloon hovered nearby.

Soccer was a big part of Autumn's childhood. The Collingswood Soccer Club, where her cousin plays, asked for a moment of silence at its Saturday afternoon game against Haddonfield at Knights Park - and released yellow balloons in Autumn's honor.

A collection for the Pasquale family was taken up during the game, the club said in an e-mail.

Autumn was "a tomboy with the best of them," Mannion, director of community relations for the Diocese of Camden, recalled during his homily. Yet she "could also dress up to look like a princess."

He told the mourners that "if you believe Easter Sunday will follow Good Friday, then let her life change you."

"Let her spirit and her soul connect with yours," the monsignor said. "There are so many ways that you can guarantee that this little girl didn't die in vain."


Contact Alan J. Heavens

at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com, or @alheavens at Twitter.

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