Wearing Cubs jerseys, Dolphin jerseys, Panther jerseys, Chelsea United jerseys, but most of all Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School jerseys, hundreds turned out Saturday to mourn the death and celebrate the life of 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver, an athlete and avid sports fan who was among the 17 killed during Wednesday’s shooting rampage at the Parkland school.
Students, some barely teenagers, clung to each other in the standing-room-only crowd of mourners who spilled out of the chapel, filled the entrance and streamed into a parking area at The Gardens of Boca Raton cemetery on Military Trail, just south of Yamato Road. Some estimated the crowd at more than 1,000.
It took nearly two hours for the crowd to file into the chapel where Oliver’s grief-stricken family tearfully accepted hugs and comforting words. They tried to bolster the young people, who have barely begun their lives and now have to confront the senseless deaths of 14 classmates, a teacher, the school’s athletic director and an assistant football coach.
The funeral - one of several that began Friday and will be repeated again and again over the next several days - drew some of the Venezuelan-born teen’s closest friends and teammates. Others acknowledged they didn’t know him well but had to be there to show their support and to reaffirm: “Douglas Strong.”
Some had used tape to cover the names of celebrity sport stars on the jerseys and handwritten in the name, “Guac,” Joaquin’s well-known nickname. Others had written his moniker on their sneakers. Still others had dyed their hair blond, mimicking Joaquin’s own tribute to avant-garde R&B/hip-hop artist Frank Ocean’s album “Blonde.”
While a gun control rally was held in Fort Lauderdale, politicians disagreed about what to do to stop mass shootings and people speculated about the fate of 19-year-old accused shooter, Nikolas Cruz, such conversations seemed far removed.
Those gathered came only to hold each other and grieve.
Joaquin, who excelled in various sports, including basketball, had recently become a naturalized U.S. citizen, according to WPLG (Channel 10) in Miami. His family moved to Coral Springs when he was three to escape the turmoil in their native country.
In the Spanish-language service, the mourners were urged to celebrate Joaquin’s life.
“Viva Joaquin!” the celebrant cried, as the crowd erupted in cheers and applause.
But burly young men, who played sports with Joaquin, had difficulty holding onto such optimism, emerging from the chapel, weeping uncontrollably and turning to other teens for support.
Parents, meanwhile, tried to comfort their children, but acknowledged they were at a loss.
“There are no words,” one parent said. “What can you say?”