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Family Mourns 4-Year-Old Girl Killed by SUV Fleeing Police

By Gustavo Solis | June 9, 2013 4:27pm | Updated on June 9, 2013 10:21pm
 Friends and family cried and shared stories at the funeral for Ariel Russo, 4, who was struck and killed by an unlicensed teen driver involved in a police chase on the Upper West Side on June 4, 2013.
Family Mourns at Funeral for Ariel Russo
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MIDDLE VILLAGE — It was a tearful afternoon as friends and family mourned the death of 4-year-old Ariel Russo Sunday afternoon in Queens.

Ariel and her grandmother were hit by an SUV that was fleeing cops Tuesday morning at 97th and Amsterdam. The grandmother was in stable condition, but Ariel died soon after the crash, after rescuers were delayed when the 911 call about the accident was missed by FDNY dispatchers during a shift change.

The closed casket wake and later, funeral service, was held in a windowless room at Leo F. Kearns Funeral Home, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Guests came and went from the 61-40 Woodhaven Blvd. building throughout the afternoon, and some picked up bookmarks that featured a picture of Ariel wearing Merida's princess dress and crown from the animated Disney movie Brave.

On the other side of the tassled bookmark was a poem that Ariel's mother, Sofia Russo, wrote in 2012.

"Maybe this world can be dark," she wrote, "but I did not bring children here to suffer, and no parent does. We bring them here to inspire others."

Russo greeted guests as they entered for the wake.

"I didn't know why I wrote it," she said of the poem, as she cried. "But now I do."

Inside the room, Ariel's small white casket was displayed in the middle surrounded by colorful flower arrangements of pink, red, and white carnations.

As guests made their way to the front of the room to pay their respects to Ariel's family, they passed a class photo from the 4-year-old's Pre-K class at Holy Name School on the Upper West Side. The Catholic school held a service for Ariel on Wednesday.

Some of Ariel's school work was also on display at the funeral service.

A board on the left side of the room showed a picture of a rainbow and a poem she wrote about her "Goofy Feet."

Henry Ortiz, 50, who works as a data entry clerk at a Manhattan hospital with Alan Russo, Ariel's dad, said he remembered the back when the Russos were still expecting. 

"He was excited to have a child," he said, then as a baby, he said the proud father always went on about her. "He talked about her at work. Telling us how she was growing and normal stuff like that."

Seeing the coffin was difficult, Ortiz added later. "It was emotional in there. We didn't say much I just embraced him."

The cousin of Sofia Russo's grandfather, Eusebio Gutierrez, said it was trying for the family.

"There is a lot of sadness in the room. One never expects something like this to happen," he added. "[Sofia] is very affected by this. She has been crying all day as people approach her."

The family, which has not spoken publicly since the incident, requested to be left in peace during their time of mourning, but asked guests to make a donation to St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Ariel's memory.