Four sparkling white caskets -- including three tiny ones barely 4 feet long -- stretched across the chapel yesterday at the Salvation Army Middle River Corps Community Center.
Inside the coffins were the bodies of Betty Louise Clark and her three children -- all killed last week when her estranged husband blew up his car on an Essex shopping center parking lot, killing them and himself.
The lives of Mrs. Clark's children -- Melissa Ray, 11; Ricardo Valdez, 6; and Krysta Clark, 4 -- were "snuffed out before they had a chance to even know what life was all about," said Carolyn Russo, a family friend, during yesterday's funeral.
Under overcast skies, friends and relatives -- and many others -- came to say farewell to Mrs. Clark and her children yesterday. Many of the more than 200 mourners were people who never knew the family but still feel their pain.
"I can't sleep nights anymore. I keep thinking about the youngsters," said Rose Spradley, an Overlea resident who never met the victims. Tears streamed down her face and she clutched a pink stuffed animal, a token she wanted to give to someone in the victims' family.
"It's so hard to take, to understand why," she said. "Such young lives. Gone."
The victims died Monday when Mark Alen Clark, 32 -- Mrs. Clark's estranged husband and the biological father of Krysta -- apparently detonated a bomb in his car parked behind the Middlesex Shopping Center.
All of the victims died instantly or within hours of the bombing, police said. Body and car parts were found as far as 300 yards away.
Baltimore County police said that this summer Mrs. Clark left her husband in Cumberland after he had become abusive. Mr. Clark had come to Mrs. Clark's Rosedale apartment to visit, and had taken the family to the shopping center to buy school supplies when the bomb exploded.
An array of toys still decorates the location behind the shopping center where the explosion occurred.
Mr. Clark was not eulogized yesterday, and family members were unsure when and where he will be buried. His name was not mentioned during the service, either, and few mourners wished to mention him afterward.
"The less said of him the better. No one knows how anyone could possibly do this to anyone -- especially to family," said Carlton Davis, a friend of Mrs. Clark. "Why take it out on the little ones?"
During the funeral services, which ended with burial in donated adjoining plots at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Cockeysville, the children were remembered as bright and eager dreamers with lofty ambitions; Mrs. Clark was recalled as someone who had turned her life around.
Framed pictures of each were on tables among the coffins and in the center's lobby.
"Ricardo was known as 'Little Ricky,' and he was so full of questions," Maj. Georgia Henderson of the Salvation Army said during the eulogy. "He was always asking 'What if' and 'Why.' "
Melissa, the oldest child, was active in Salvation Army activities and had become her "mother's little helper."
"She was 11 going on 18," Major Henderson said. "She was a mother to her siblings. She was a sweet thing. She was born a month early; she got started early in heaven, too."
Sandra Thomas, who lived in an apartment near Mrs. Clark's and often watched the youngsters, said she treated the children as though they were her own.
"They were the apple of my eye. They'd come to my apartment every day for candy," Ms. Thomas said. "I miss them terribly."
Ms. Thomas said Mrs. Clark was a mother who was never far from her children.
"They were always together, like a unit. That's how it always was with them," she said.
Near the close of yesterday's services, the mourners were asked to join in singing a favorite children's hymn. Many cried as they sang in quiet refrain:
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me --
The Bible tells me so.