LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister David Cameron joined thousands of mourners Friday at the funeral of a British soldier killed in broad daylight by alleged Islamic extremists.
Lee Rigby, 25, was hacked to death May 22 on a London street near his army barracks. The killing shocked Britain and much of the world.
On Friday, Rigby’s family and mourners were greeted with applause by members of the public lining the streets outside Bury Parish Church in northwest England, where soldiers from Rigby’s Royal Regiment of Fusiliers had maintained an honor guard overnight.
The soldier’s widow, Rebecca, walked into the church with the couple’s 2-year-old son Jack, who wore a T-shirt bearing the words “My Daddy My Hero.” Rigby’s parents and sisters were in tears.
London Mayor Boris Johnson was among the public officials in attendance.
The service was private, in keeping with the family’s wishes, but broadcast on loudspeakers to well-wishers packing the street outside the church.
Rigby’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Jim Taylor, described the soldier as “extremely popular” and “truly charismatic,” telling mourners the man known to friends as “Riggers” loved to perform.
“To be with Lee was to be where it was most fun — the center of good times and much mischief,” Taylor said in a eulogy. “People fell quickly under his spell. Whether it was in work or off duty, at a ceremonial engagement or on operations, Lee just knew how to lighten the mood. He could brighten a room within moments and, by all accounts, clear a dance floor in seconds, if a Whitney Houston track was playing.”
Rebecca Rigby had earlier expressed gratitude for the “overwhelming” outpouring of support following the attack.
“There are so many kind and generous people out there,” she said in a pool interview ahead of the funeral. “It’s just horrible that it takes something such as this to make you see how many good people there are.”
Rigby’s death caused a spike in racial tensions in Britain due to the apparent involvement of religious extremists. Police reported an increase in attacks against Muslim mosques and community centers in the subsequent weeks.
The two men charged in relation to Rigby’s killing — Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22 — are due to stand trial starting Nov. 18.