The Welsh hometown of April Jones was decorated with pink today as the community prepared to say goodbye to the murdered schoolgirl.
April’s family will finally pay an emotional farewell to the five-year-old – a year after she was killed.
The funeral service comes five days before the first anniversary of April’s murder and just 10 days after an inquest released her remains to her family.
Hundreds of mourners in the mid-Wales market town of Machynlleth are expected to pay their respects to the youngster at midday.
Mourners have been asked to wear pink, the schoolgirl’s favourite colour, and the town was already adorned with ribbons this morning, hanging in shop windows, tied to lamp-posts and worn on clothing.
They were adopted by locals as a symbol of hope that April would return home safe, but now serve as a sign of support to her family as well a reminder that people have not forgotten her.
Even during the opening of the schoolgirl’s inquest, the coroner’s officer sat in the brief hearing wearing a pink ribbon pinned to his police uniform.
The colour also decorated the Bryn-y-Gog estate, from where April was snatched.
On a communal piece of grass, just yards from her home, stands a memorial garden featuring a pink dolls’ house, pink ribbons and scores of pink flowers.
A neighbour of Coral and Paul, who did not want to be named, said: “I can’t really explain how I feel about today. It still feels unreal – everything that happened.
“In a sense, everyone around here feels a bit relieved that April can finally have a proper funeral.
“The fact that Coral and Paul have been denied that for so long because that scumbag Mark Bridger refused to say what he did with April’s body has made their pain even worse.
“I’m hoping that today will help April’s family gain a degree of closure - though they’ll obviously never get over what happened.
“People here will never forget April and will always be here for her family.
“The way everyone still wears pink ribbons and looks after the memorial garden is a way of showing our support.”
A horse-drawn hearse will carry the coffin containing April’s remains on the one mile journey from the Bryn-y-Gog estate to St Peter’s Church.
Coral and Paul Jones and April’s sister and brother, Jazmin and Harley, will follow by car, joined by mourners on foot. In a message to be read out at the service, the Bishop of Bangor Andrew John said: “The Diocese of Bangor is holding you as a family and as a community in its prayers. You are not alone.”
April was taken from the Bryn-y-Gog estate on October 1 last year.
Paedophile Mark Bridger, 47, was convicted of the killing in May after a trial at Mold Crown Court and was sentenced to a whole life term in prison.
He insisted he had knocked down April accidentally in an alcohol-fuelled haze and had no memory of what he did with her body.
Search teams combed the area around the town for more than six months looking for a trace of April without success.
Just 17 tiny pieces of bone, fragments of her skull, were recovered by detectives from the fireplace of Bridger’s cottage in the nearby village of Ceinws.
An inquest into her death, which concluded on September 16, allowed a death certificate to be issued so April’s funeral could take place.
Her family had been denied that right until the inquest concluded after Bridger refused to say what he did with her body.
Reverend Kathleen Rogers will conduct today’s funeral service and said she hopes it will be the start of a return to normality for the town.
“A funeral plays a significant part in the grieving process and the funeral of little April will be even more important for her family as the probability of such a service was very remote until the inquest two weeks ago,” she said on the eve of the service.
“Our prayer is that it will be a starting point for them as they travel the long and painful journey of healing. It will also, I think, give the community permission to bring some sort of normality back to our town.”
Her words came as it was announced that donations made at April’s funeral will be used to sponsor a five-year-old girl in a village in Uganda.
Rev Rogers said the parish would sponsor the child until she finishes her education “in an attempt to see some good out of this tragedy”.
She added: “April’s parents have kindly asked that donations from her funeral be donated to this sponsorship and we are very grateful to them.”
Justin Byworth, chief executive of World Vision UK, said: “We’re privileged that the church and April’s family have chosen to honour April’s memory by sponsoring a child through World Vision UK.
“We offer our sincerest condolences and we express our gratitude that, through these desperately sad circumstances, a five-year-old girl in Uganda will benefit.”