Slain Berry sisters remembered in public funeral service in Victoria

Two small girls who were found dead in their father's Oak Bay, B.C., apartment Christmas Day were remembered Friday as full of joy and love as family and friends gathered for a public funeral service. 

More than 400 people attended the service for Chloe Berry, 6, and Aubrey Berry, 4, in Victoria's grand Christ Church Cathedral. Chloe was a Grade 1 student at the cathedral's elementary school. 

The girls' father, Andrew Berry, 43, has been charged with second-degree murder in their deaths. 

Tricia Lees and Sandra Hudson, close friends of the girls' mother Sarah Cotton, told reporters outside the service the community support has been helpful to her. 

 "I think today with all of our friends and family and even people we don't know, it really helps for her to see what an outpouring of support she has," Lees said. "I think it's the first step in the beginning of a process that's going to be really long."

Lees said Cotton has responded to her loss with "remarkable courage and grace and dignity in this circumstance which is sort of beyond comprehension for most of us."

Hudson said she thinks the public reaction to the tragedy is a reflection of the character of Cotton and her daughters.

 "They were loving and much-loved people and I think that's coming back to Sarah now, the support and the kindness of everyone," Hudson said.

Tears flowed during the ceremony inside the cathedral, which was filled to capacity with more people listening from the lobby.

Officiating clergy described the ceremony as one of memory and hope, but also acknowledged the anger and pain of the situation.

The girls' aunt, Emma Cotton, described the girls as true angels that will be missed and loved forever.

A photo of the smiling girls faced the pews, surrounded by flowers. Family and friends wore ribbons in the girls' favourite colours, pink and purple.

"This is just a reminder that these were little tiny girls that we're here to honour," Lees said.

"I know this is such a sombre occasion, but we only remember the happy times when all of our families would be together doing fun things," said Lees, whose own two daughters were close in age to Chloe and Aubrey.

"They brought joy to so many of us and so much love," Hudson said. "I hope that as the months and years go by when [people] think of Chloe and Aubrey, they think of joy and love."

The deaths of the two girls of prompted an outpouring of grief from the community.

Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil in their memory on Dec. 30 at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, the Victoria suburb where they lived.

Reverend Ansley Tucker, the rector at Christ Church Cathedral, said in an interview the funeral service would be a way for people to share their deep grief.

"The ripple effect is enormous because this has captured the heart and imagination of a whole city and beyond," Tucker said.

Aubrey and Chloe had been spending time with their father early on Dec. 25, as allowed under his custody arrangement with their mother, from whom he has been separated since 2013.