BRANT – There was no end to the grief Thursday as hundreds of people came and went from the house where 3-year-old Gage Seneca’s body was at rest in a white coffin.
Gage likely didn’t know many of his mourners, but this was a community coming out in large numbers to let his family members know they are not alone.
“The entire community is reaching out to Gage’s mother,” Melanie Mohawk said of her childhood friend, Tashia Seneca. “We’re taking this step by step. We’re just so grief-stricken.”
A cousin on her way to the Seneca family’s Sulphur Springs Road home said the child’s slaying has created a sense of vulnerability, which has caused Seneca Nation members from both this reservation and the Allegany Reservation to draw closer together.
“It has affected all of our territories,” the woman said. “There’s just a whole lot of hurt and sorrow. When you have a little one that goes, everyone is there.”
In fact, to accommodate the overflow crowd, the Seneca family placed two sprawling white tents complete with heaters adjacent to their ranch home.
But one member of the tribe was not among the mourners.
Justin Crouse, 30, was at the Erie County Holding Center in downtown Buffalo, charged with second-degree murder in the child’s death.
Crouse, the live-in boyfriend of the child’s mother, had awoken at about 1 a.m. Tuesday and found Gage walking around the living room, authorities said.
He allegedly struck the child, then picked him up and placed him inside his play tent, where Gage had been sleeping since moving out of his crib. Crouse, an unemployed construction worker, then returned to bed, according to Erie County Sheriff’s Office investigators, who reported an autopsy determined Gage died from blunt-force trauma to the head.
Seneca Nation officials declined to comment, except to say that the death is part of a criminal investigation.
Others had plenty to say.
“How could anyone do that to a 3-year-old kid?” neighbor Thomas Jones said. “I don’t understand. I’ve been crying since it happened. Gage was such a good boy. He always had a smile on his face.
“Gage didn’t deserve what happened to him. It’s a tragedy. I didn’t believe it when I heard the news and I don’t understand it now,” said Mohawk, the young woman who grew up with Gage’s mother.
And despite the great hurt so many were experiencing, one Seneca relative managed to put aside her grief for a moment and recall the joy Gage brought to others during his short life.
“Gage was always laughing. He loved superheroes and he always was asking questions. He had curiosity and inquisitiveness.”
The family, she added, has a strong bond and love for each other, so much so that many live within walking distance of each other.
The boy will be buried today.
But for the next several days, what is known as the “Tenth-Day Feast,” a Seneca Longhouse religious tradition, will continue in honor of Gage, friends and relatives said.
Crouse, who is being held without bail, is scheduled to return to Brant Town Court at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday for further proceedings.