COLLEYVILLE, Texas (AP) — The mother of a Texas A&M defensive lineman and his younger brother told her sons goodbye in front of a packed church Saturday, almost two weeks after they and another teen were killed in a car accident in New Mexico.
Texas A&M football coach Kevin Sumlin and about 75 of his players and staff were among the more than 1,000 people who attended the funeral for defensive lineman Polo Manukainiu, 19, and his brother, 13-year old Andrew “Lolo” Uhatafe.
Tulima Uhatafe and other family members remembered the teens as humble boys who brought smiles to everyone they met.
“The heavenly father gave me those beautiful sons for me to take care of them,” Uhatafe said as she wiped away tears. “To teach them (how) to be humble.”
A line of family members greeted Texas A&M football players as they walked into the service, which was held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Fort Worth suburb of Colleyville.
“It’s very touching for our family. And for (the team) coming to pay their respects is very much appreciated,” said Tupou Taufa, a cousin of the brothers.
Alan Cannon, a spokesman for Texas A&M’s athletics department, couldn’t confirm whether star quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel had planned to attend. He wasn’t seen at the service.
The basketball gym normally used for the church’s services filled up with mourners. A screen projector showed the service, held in both English and Tongan, to those in the back.
The choir sang only in Tongan, and family members wore a traditional Tongan dress, called a ta’ovala, to pay their respects to the brothers and their culture, relatives said. The dress is worn in formal ceremonies in the Tongan culture.
Manukainiu, Uhatafe and 18-year-old Utah recruit Gaius “Keio” Vaenuku, who also died in the July 29 accident, were from Euless’ tight-knit Tongan community.
Manukainiu was a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M last season, while his brother was an incoming freshman to Trinity High School in nearby Euless.
The brothers and Vaenuku died July 29 when their vehicle rolled as they were driving from Utah to Texas. Vaenuku was a teammate of Manukainiu’s at Trinity.
“The love and support from the community has been very overwhelming,” Taufa said. “They were just regular boys, but they brought so many people together.”