TORONTO - The godmother of a Toronto toddler whose death last week prompted a national outpouring of grief said the boy captured people's hearts from the moment he was born.
Three-year-old Elijah Marsh died a week ago after wandering outside in the middle of a bitterly cold night dressed only in a shirt, diapers and boots, sparking a search that gripped people across the country.
A public visitation held for him Thursday drew a steady trickle of visitors, including many who had never met the child or his family before the tragedy. A funeral planned for Saturday will also be open to the public.
Some of those closest to Elijah remembered him as unique, loving and wise beyond his years.
"He was so funny. He’s such an old soul," the boy's godmother, Laila Bellomy, said.
"He just had that effect on people," she said outside the visitation. "He was just a perfect little dude, you couldn't help but fall in love with him."
Elijah's relatives are struggling with the loss but "holding on," and appreciate the support they've received from friends and strangers alike, family friend Lenore Butcher said.
”It’s absolutely overwhelming. They cannot express in words," she said.
"It just feels like the whole city is mourning with them. And they really feel it. They feel everything."
Elsie Wynter said she didn't know Elijah or his family but felt compelled to come pay her respects.
"I don't even know (why I came), I just know I had to," she said as she left the Vescio Funeral Home in midtown Toronto.
The child's death seemed to strike a particular chord with parents, said Stevano Ugo, who also came to say his last goodbyes to a boy he had never met in life.
"This also makes a lot of parents realize how vulnerable they are — I haven't been able to let go of my son, I barely could come here without him," he said.
An online fundraising campaign to raise money for Elijah's funeral brought in a total of $173,557.
Butcher said the family has not yet made plans for the balance of the money, saying they are taking things "one hour at a time."
Meanwhile, the mother of a four-year-old boy — who wandered naked out in the cold the day after Elijah died but was found by a neighbour just in time — appeared in a Toronto court.
The boy's 23-year old mother's case was remanded to March 23.