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North country Boy Scout leaders participate in Newtown funeral


Pure silence.

An urn holding the cremated remains of Tiger Scout Benjamin Wheeler was carried by his family members on a funeral arc Thursday morning into Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown, Conn. More than 200 Boy Scout leaders and scouts who flanked the front walkway held flags and saluted — not making a sound.

A large portrait among the throng of supporters depicted the smiling face of the 6-year-old, who was among the first-graders killed during the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14.

Leading the group of Boy Scout leaders who held flags during the funeral procession was Jay M. Matteson, Scout Master for Troop 37 in Adams, who made the trip to Newtown for the occasion with a group of 10 leaders from Northern New York.

These leaders could sympathize with the anguish written on the faces of family members and troop leaders in Newtown. Mr. Matteson said Boy Scout units support each other much like families. Although no Boy Scouts from the north country made the trip to Newtown because of school, he said, many wore their uniforms Thursday to show their support.

“When you go to a Scouting event out of the area, it’s still all family,” Mr. Matteson said. “So as you’re standing there and watching parents weep for a Cub Scout and go through this horrific experience, you’re thinking it could be you.”

The tragedy’s reality didn’t fully dawn on Mr. Matteson until he saw the Newtown den master walking past him after the funeral with his Tiger Scouts. The grief-stricken man carried a flag displaying all of the Tiger Scouts’ names, while boys held up a flag together in remembrance of Benjamin.

“He was a mess,” Mr. Matteson said. “He was crying, weeping and totally devastated. He found enough courage to stop and say thank you to us. But he could barely say the words; it was more just shaking and uttering the words, rather than saying thank you. Tears were running down my face.”

Though plenty of tears streamed down cheeks in Newtown on Thursday, the community was adorned with many signs of hope. Teddy bears and flowers lined park benches and sidewalks, and scout leaders who traveled there from different states shook hands and comforted residents in grief. Mr. Matteson noticed several other funeral processions passing by Thursday morning.

“It was surreal in a way. Here you are for one little boy’s funeral, and processions are going by for other children.”

He also managed to chat with some young Newtown Scouts to take their minds off the tragedy.

“We talked about camping and making stories, and it took their minds off it for a few minutes. The support doesn’t take away what they face for the rest of their lives, but it gives them some courage to keep going, at least for a short time,” Mr. Matteson said.

Also making the trip was Shon L. Montgomery, a Cub Master for Troop 37 in Adams. He served as a Boy Scout during his youth in Nebraska and now has two sons — ages 5 and 11 — who serve.

He also serves as the chairman of the Tri-Rivers Boy Scout district organizes activities for scouts in Jefferson and Lewis counties. Attending the funeral made him realize how special it is to be a Boy Scout leader.

“As a cub master, your pack really feels like a family because you spend a lot of time with them,” he said. “You grow a bond with the kids, sing songs and joke around.”

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