NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Two sisters who died when a small plane crashed into their Connecticut home a week ago were "angels of God," cheerful and loving girls full of great potential, loved ones and officials said at their funeral Friday.
Sade Brantley, 13, maintained high honors in middle school, recently receiving a presidential academic achievement award as well as excellence awards in math, science and language arts. Described by friends, family and in the funeral program as a smart and reserved "young lady" who was serious about her studies, yet could easily erupt into giggles, Sade had dreams of being famous and someday becoming a neurosurgeon.
Her 1-year-old sister, Madisyn Mitchell, was always on Brantley's hip when the pair went together to their family's church in Hamden, the program said. Called Maddy-cakes or Maddy-paddy, Madisyn loved music, dance and food. She often would hum while eating.
"We celebrate two innocent lives, two beginning lives," said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, one of several officials who joined the hundreds of mourners that packed the New Trinity Temple Church of God in Christ in New Haven. "We celebrate them for the potential they were."
The girls' house in East Haven was one of two struck by a 10-seat plane when it crashed Aug. 9 on its approach to Tweed-New Haven Airport. The other house wasn't occupied. Also killed were the two people aboard the plane, 54-year-old former Microsoft executive Bill Henningsgaard and his 17-year-old son, Maxwell. The cause remains under investigation.
Joann Mitchell, the girls' mother, survived the crash. She was seen by neighbors that day screaming that her daughters were still inside the burning home.
Wearing a long white dress at the funeral, Mitchell looked grief-stricken as she walked down the church aisle and approached the single white casket that held her daughters. But after a while, she appeared to take solace in the interdenominational service, occasionally raising her hands and rocking to gospel music.
Mitchell, who made a surprise appearance at a community vigil for the girls Saturday, was praised for both her courage and strong religious faith.
Mitchell also went to Sunday services, said Robert Middleton, the family's pastor.
"Many other people would have resorted to alcohol and drugs, but she resorted to prayers and remained strong," Middleton said.
While acknowledging Mitchell's daughters died in a sudden, horrific accident, Middleton said he also witnessed "a lot of good people standing up," including everyday people and first responders who tried to rescue the girls.
East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo described how neighbors rushed into Mitchell's burning home, "going from room to room, for what turned out to be an impossible task, but one for which they risked their lives for these angels of God." He said the girls' deaths have united a neighborhood in grief and love.
Some of the religious leaders at the service acknowledged the randomness of the deadly crash.
"Today, we are sad. We are in pain. We are frustrated. There are age-long questions of why, why did this have to happen," said Rev. Bosie Kimber. But he urged the mourners to embrace their religious faith, saying "there is some assurance that God is our answer."