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'Oh, it hurts, Lord'; many mourn at viewing

Touched by the tragedy, people streamed into Harlem Park Community Baptist Church last night to offer their respects and comfort to the families of three slain Northwest Baltimore children whom most had never even met.

Residents of the church's west-side neighborhood stopped by on their way home from work. Others were passers-by whose curiosity brought them to the viewing there.

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Although few knew the appropriate phrases in the Mexican families' native Spanish that could offer comfort, one by one, they reached to shake the hands of the parents, hoping that a touch alone could communicate their grief.

"I can't imagine what it must be like for them," said Christilia Wideman, who grew up in Harlem Park. "They don't have many of their people here, so maybe by being here, we can help."

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Mourners had the opportunity to bid farewell in person to Ricardo Solis Quezada Jr. and his sister, Lucero Solis Quezada, both 9, and their 10-year-old cousin, Alexis Espejo Quezada, the children found dead May 27 in a family apartment in the Fallstaff neighborhood, one decapitated and two nearly beheaded.

Two relatives, Policarpio Espinoza, 22, and Adan Espinoza Canela, 17, have been arrested and charged in the killings.

Public invited

The service was supposed to be for family only, but yesterday afternoon Ricardo Espinoza, the father of Ricardo Jr. and Lucero, called Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's office asking to invite the public to a viewing after the family service.

At the church, mourners formed a queue around the dimly lighted sanctuary to view the children in open white caskets positioned in front of the altar. Many cried or buried their faces in their hands. One woman, who was escorted out of the church, was crying and screaming on the sidewalk, "Those aren't even my babies. ... Oh, it hurts, Lord."

Lucero, in a pink dress and matching sweater, had a corsage in her hands. Alexis wore a blue pinstriped suit, and Ricardo a beige suit and tie. Those who knew them said Lucero looked like an angel and that the boys resembled "little men" - handsome and perfect.

"They just looked so innocent," said Renee Staton, mopping up tears with tissue. Staton, a parent volunteer at Cross Country Elementary School, which the children attended, was one of the few mourners at the church who knew them well. Her son, Malcolm, was Ricardo's playmate.

'Always smiling'

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"Ricardo was the sweetest, most beautiful little ... boy," she said. "He was always smiling and always happy. And wherever you saw him, you saw Alexis. They were so tight."

In Tenenexpan, Mexico, yesterday, about two dozen family friends gathered to start preparing a grave for the three children.

The men - wearing boots, jeans, straw hats and guayabera shirts - spent much of the day digging a single large grave. They expect to finish their work today, and the funeral is likely to be held this weekend if arrangements are completed to send the children's bodies there.

Outside the Harlem Park church, relatives said they were thankful for the outpouring of support from the community. More than two dozen relatives arrived at the church with a police escort and were initially shielded from the public and whisked by officers into the private funeral service.

Later, as people began to gather on steps beside the church, relatives of the children agreed to give a statement of thanks.

'Huge impact'

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"This has been a huge impact on the whole community," said Alfonso Espejo, an uncle to Alexis. "Even though it is difficult for us, we want you to know we are thankful that you are sharing in our pain."

The family openly displayed its grief.

The parents of young Ricardo and Lucero -- Ricardo Espinoza and Noemi Quezada -- emerged from the church shortly after entering, the mother shaking her head and seeming unwilling to go back inside. After a discussion with her husband, she went back in for a family-only ceremony.

Many strangers made a point of visiting the church to express condolences, but some said later that they wondered whether they had intruded on a private family moment.

"When I got inside and I looked at the family, I wondered how they really felt about having all of us there," said Barbara Evans, a resident of the neighborhood. "If I had the chance to do it all again, I wouldn't go in. I just think this is something that has just taken over this city."

Sun staff writer Allison Klein, reporting from Mexico, contributed to this article.


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