Winfield H. "Winnie" Berrell Jr. had just 18-and-a-half years of life, but he lived those years to the absolute fullest despite a serious heart condition, according to family and friends who remembered him with laughter and tears at his funeral Saturday.
"I will always remember my little brother as being larger than life," his sister, Hannah Berrell, said during the service.
Mourners filled both the sanctuary and an overflow room in the bottom level of Calvary Baptist Church in Bel Air. The Rev. Ken Tipton, the church's minister of music who presided over the funeral service, said the family spent nine hours the previous day meeting people who paid their respects during visitation.
"Win Berrell was a gift, understand that ... he and his family are gifts," Tipton said.
Winfield lived in Norrisville and graduated from North Harford High School in late May. He was named "Mr. North Harford" by his fellow students in the spring, a school-wide honor that is most coveted, his principal Colin Carr said in an interview earlier this week.
He died Monday morning as a result of an auto accident on Manor Road in Baltimore County.
He was driving south on Manor when his car crossed the center line for unknown reasons and collided with a pickup truck heading north, according to Baltimore County Police.
Winfield was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police.
Winfield was born in December 1998, the son of Winfield Berrell Sr. and Melissa Lee Berrell.
His mother, who delivered his eulogy, said "the day of his birth was filled with joy and excitement and then fear" as she and his father learned their son had hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
That meant the left side of his heart was significantly under-developed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Melissa Berrell said the family faced the choice of bringing Winfield home to die or putting him through surgery and fighting, "and fight we did!"
"Winnie has always been a fighter, a determined child, a strong child," she said.
"When a child is born that is not perfectly normal, you must realize you have a different path for that life," she said. "This wasn't the plan or the dream, but it was the reality."
Winfield had multiple open-heart surgeries during his life, but he did not let that or his condition stop him from living a full life, family members said.
"So many times we stood at his bedside, not thinking he would make it through the next day, but he did," his mother said.
He played youth sports and high school sports, worked on the technical crew with the North Harford drama club, took part in extracurricular and community activities, helped with Calvary Baptist's Awana children's Bible study program, plus he was a spokesperson for the American Heart Association.
Members of the North Harford High School Choir sang several selections during Saturday's service.
Melissa Berrell also described her son's travels throughout the U.S. and Europe, his swift take-down of a middle-school bully with a kick to the knee and his close relationship with his sisters, Hannah and Elizabeth, or "Ellie."
"Hannah and Ellie loved him so fiercely," she said.
She praised the many members of the community, such as Winfield's friends and teammates, who supported him during his life and supported his family following his death.
"Where would we be without friends and family — we'd be nowhere, so thank you all," she said.
Tipton talked about Winfield's faith and his relationship with God. He stressed that each person must have a personal relationship with God, and it is their decision and no one else's to enter into that relationship.
"I can tell you that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I believe Win Berrell is in heaven today," Tipton said.
"God put Winnie in the right family," said Tipton, praising Winfield's extended family who "encouraged him to be all he could be," his sisters for caring for him, and the many doctors and hospital staff who treated him.
"Are you a better person because of Winnie Berrell?" Tipton asked. "I can say, 'yes.'"
Mourners gathered at the front of the church after the service, hugging, wiping away tears and sharing stories before the procession headed to the burial service at Norrisville United Methodist Church.
"Our whole family is overwhelmed with joy and love, that that little boy made such a mark on evidently thousands of people," Winfield's great-aunt, Linda Duncan of Norrisville, said.
Rick Russell, a former teacher and principal at Norrisville Elementary School, talked about the close-knit nature of the northern Harford County community.
"It's a community that is very connected around the school and the church," Russell said.
Winfield attended Norrisville Elementary, and Russell taught Winfield's mother and his aunts when they were students there.
Russell described the attendance at Winfield's funeral as a "testament to his brief, but very positively impactful life."
Alyssa Marks, 16, of Norrsiville, who is going into the 11th grade at North Harford High, said she has known Winfield since they were children.His mother was her physical education teacher at Norrisville Elementary.
They also worked on musical productions in high school. She said she and Winfield were not really close because of their two-year age difference, but she would hear him talking with his friends and laugh at his "witty remarks."
"Not being able to hear that anymore, that's what hits me the most," Alyssa said.
"It's so amazing, but I didn't expect any less," she said of the turnout at the funeral. "People loved his sense of humor; [it was] just the biggest thing about him everybody loved."