EAST VILLAGE — The 200 or so mourners who turned out for 12-year-old Dashane Santana’s funeral Wednesday morning briefly managed to keep their somber composure.
Then, just before communion, as the first lines of “Ave Maria” filled St. Emeric's Church on Avenue D, Santana’s mother began to cry out from the front row.
“Baby, I love you with all my heart,” 31-year-old Shamika Benjamin said in a choked voice to the unadorned reddish wood casket that held her daughter. A talented singer and dancer at The CASTLE Middle School, Santana was struck and killed by a minivan as she crossed Delancey Street Jan. 13.
“Baby," Benjamin repeated, "I love you with all my heart.”
The mother's anguished voice broke the spell, and everyone began to openly weep. Sobs and sniffles filled the church.
A little while later, Santana’s shaken-looking principal got up to speak.
“We’re broken in the sense that one of our angels is no longer with us,” said Judith de los Santos-Pena, CASTLE Middle School's principal.
Then a small group of her friends and classmates stood to sing a song. It was called “Missing You,” and it took them several tries to get past the first verse. They were too choked up. Eventually, they made it through.
One of the girls was Priscilla Lapuerta, 12, who’d grown up with Santana. Before the service, she recalled making a YouTube video with Santana in which they performed the LMFAO song “Party Rock Anthem.” A couple days later, her friend was dead.
“I found out 15 minutes after,” Lapuerta said. “When I got the phone call, I broke down. We’d known each other our whole lives.”
Another friend, Naim Wilson, 12, said he’d always remember Santana’s laugh, and the way she was unafraid to speak her mind. “It’s so heartbreaking,” he said.
When the modest service — made possible by a fundraiser — was over, six men carried her casket to a hearse. Family and friends crowded into the foyer for a chance to touch the casket. Then they followed it out.
Then the hearse headed to Rosehill Cemetery in New Jersey, where Santana will be buried.