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Emotional farewell for Jeremiah; Father: 'I'm sorry I couldn't protect you'.

Byline: Bronislaus B. Kush

FITCHBURG -- The family of little Jeremiah Oliver believes that the 5-year-old is now in "a better place,'' and, if that's the case, then the youngster should not ever have to worry about being forgotten again.

On Saturday morning, at least 350 people filed past Jeremiah's small, white casket during two hours of calling hours at the Rollstone Congregational Church on Main Street. They were paying their respects for the child whose long missing body was found stuffed last month in a beat-up suitcase and left near the southbound lanes of Interstate 190 in Sterling.

Many of those people stayed for the emotionally wrenching 75-minute funeral service, where Jeremiah's father, Jose Oliver, told those packing the pews of the downtown church that he had failed his son.

Choking back tears, the New Britain, Connecticut, man asked Jeremiah, who loved Spider-Man, and, who wanted one day to become a police officer to protect people, asked for forgiveness.

"I am your father. I love you with all my strength,'' said Mr. Oliver. "I'm sorry I couldn't be there to protect you. Forgive me.''

Jeremiah was last seen alive by relatives in September but was not reported missing to authorities until December.

Thanks to a jailhouse tip, investigators found his clothed remains, which were wrapped in a blanket within the suitcase, on April 18 about 40 feet off the roadway and about 12 miles from his home.

The boy's death is being investigated as a homicide.

Five individuals have been charged in the case including his mother, Elsa Oliver, 28, of 276 Kimball St., and her boyfriend, Alberto L. Sierra, 22, of 164 Meadowbrook Lane.

Saturday's memorial of Jeremiah, who was buried later in the day at the "Children's Grave'' section of Hope Cemetery in Worcester, was billed as a celebration of his young life and the message board in front of the church invited the whole Fitchburg community to attend.

People who did not know the family volunteered to help out, including many young adults who wore blue Team Jeremiah T-shirts with pictures of the youngster on the front.

The line during the waking hours was constantly long, with many mourners embracing each other tightly as they passed the white and blue flower bedecked coffin and a nearby photo montage of the child.

Emotions were even higher when Mr. Oliver spoke of his offspring, who loved playing outdoors and at the park, and how he had let him down by not including him more in his life.

He said that the discovery of Jeremiah's body will not lead him to peace or closure and that his son was "a hero.''

"That's what he was,'' said Mr. Oliver, before asking those in the pews to stand and to recognize, with applause, Jeremiah's siblings -- Romeo, Juliana, Sixto, and Brandon.

Mr. Oliver said he saw his son in a recent dream and that the boy was dressed in white.

"I couldn't look at him,'' said Mr. Oliver, noting his son told him he was now safe. "He was too bright, like the sun.''

Mr. Oliver also thanked all who had offered support during the ordeal.

During the invocation, the Rev. David Hanks, the pastor of Rollstone, said that those attending the services came from different faiths to begin a healing process. He asked God to help the family through its "dark hours'' with consolation, hope, and salvation.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Dennis Bradley of the New Life Spanish Christian Church, speaking in Spanish, told service participants that Jeremiah is now in a place where there is no suffering or pain, a place where others hope one day to find themselves.

The Rev. Thomas C. Hughes of the New Creation Community Church, who officiated the service, said that many people think little of Fitchburg and its people because of the tough economic times that the community has been through.

But he said the struggling city "took a back seat to no one,'' when it came responding to Jeremiah's disappearance.

For example, he credited neighbors who searched hard in the cold, bad weather for the boy and the police who promised the family that the case would be solved.

He said a community has to ensure that its most vulnerable -- the children -- are clothed, fed, and properly cared for.

Rev. Hughes said that Jeremiah's life encompassed only about 1,800 days but it was clear the boy touched a lot of people.

"Jeremiah belongs to us (Fitchburg community),'' said Rev. Hughes.

The fate of Jeremiah and two other children has cast questions on how the state and society in general monitors the well-being of kids living in households susceptible to abuse and violence.

Ms. Oliver was charged in March with kidnapping, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and reckless endangerment of a child.

Mr. Sierra is facing similar charges and both are being held on high cash bail.

In March, police arrested Mr. Sierra's brother and two others for interfering in the investigation and misleading police.

The sibling, Christian Sierra, 21, and Cailey Thibault, 23, both of 156 Summer St., and Ashley M. Cormier, 24, of 95 Heywood St., have been charged under the intimidation of a witness statute.

The trio allegedly made cellphone calls and held a secret meeting with the child's mother and the boyfriend.

The state's Department of Children and Families also came under heavy fire following Jeremiah's disappearance last fall.

The agency had been monitoring the well-beings of Jeremiah and his brother and sister since 2011. Three DCF employees who were involved were fired and a fourth was disciplined.

That action was taken after an investigation revealed missed social worker visits and other failed opportunities to engage with the family.

Olga Roche, the commissioner of the beleaguered agency, resigned Tuesday following widespread criticism of the DCF's handling of the Oliver case and the deaths of two other children.

A number of those who showed up at Saturday's services did not know Jeremiah.

They even included members of area motorcycle clubs, who said they were horrified when they learned about the child's death.

At Hope Cemetery, the motorcyclists parked their bikes on both sides of a roadway in salute fashion as the gray hearse bearing Jeremiah passed by.

"It was horrible what happened to that kid,'' said Willie Watson of Worcester, the president of the Seven Hills Riders club. "We have to do a better job protecting the kids.''

The funeral motorcade from Fitchburg to Worcester was escorted by state and local police.

That, said Rev. Hughes, was something that young Jeremiah would have appreciated.
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Kush, Bronislaus B.
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 4, 2014
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