FITCHBURG, Mass. (WHDH) -
The Fitchburg community packed the pews on Saturday to remember Jeremiah Oliver.
The 5-year-old boy went missing last fall and his mother and her boyfriend were arrested as the community searched for him. His body was found in Sterling last month.
The focus Saturday was on the life of the young boy.
Jeremiah's father, Jose, made a speech and said, "I know that my son is in a better place."
"I'm sorry that as a father and as a man that I could not be there to protect you. I just ask you to forgive me," he said.
Oliver, of New Britain, Connecticut, gave the tearful eulogy in front of hundreds of mourners at the funeral at Rollstone Congregational Church in Fitchburg.
The family had been monitored by the Department of Children and Families since 2011. Three DCF employees were fired and a fourth disciplined after an investigation revealed missed social worker visits and other failed opportunities to engage with the family. DCF Commissioner Olga Roche resigned Tuesday under mounting pressure following the deaths of Jeremiah and two other children who were being monitored by state child welfare officials
Jeremiah's case rocked the working-class city of Fitchburg, and many who attended the funeral said they hadn't known the boy but were touched by his plight. Among them were volunteers who helped search for Jeremiah through the winter, including Cyleste Johnson, who told the congregation, "As a community, we all felt the loss of this little boy."
Mariah O'Neill, a fourth-grader at the city's Crocker Elementary School, recited lyrics from a song she had written and recorded to raise money -- more than $1,000 at last count -- for Jeremiah's funeral.
Pastor Thomas Hughes, who officiated at the funeral, praised the city for coming together for "a beautiful little boy, born into an imperfect world." But he urged mourners to channel their energy to ensure that other children are safe from abuse.
"Let's be more diligent in making sure those that have no voice... have a voice," he said.