A hearse under heavy police escort arrived late Monday at a funeral home officials said was handling the arrangements for late pop star Whitney Houston.
The hearse travelled from Teterboro Airport, where officials had told The Associated Press Houston’s body would arrive Monday night on a flight from the Los Angeles area.
Several officials familiar with funeral planning said arrangements were being made by Newark’s Whigham Funeral Home, which handled the 2003 funeral of Houston’s father. They spoke to the AP on Monday on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak for Houston’s family.
Houston died Saturday at a hotel in Beverly Hills, California. She was 48. Officials say she was underwater and apparently unconscious when she was pulled from a bathtub.
Houston was born in Newark and was raised in nearby East Orange.
A woman at the funeral home, where several police officers were stationed, said she could neither confirm nor deny reports that it would handle the arrangements. A white tent was set up leading into the funeral home’s rear entrance, and two opulent golden sarcophaguses stood at the front entrance.
Dozens of Houston fans went to the funeral home, where they played her songs, sang, lit candles to remember her and hoped to get a glimpse of her casket.
Houston’s family raised the possibility of holding a wake Thursday and a funeral Friday at Newark’s Prudential Center, which hosts college and professional sporting events and seats about 18,000 people. City officials were awaiting the family’s arrival to complete the funeral planning.
A picture of Houston appeared Monday night on the electronic board outside the arena, one of the nation’s busiest entertainment venues, with a New Jersey Devils ice hockey game Friday night posing a logistical challenge to a planned funeral that day.
Houston began singing as a child at Newark’s New Hope Baptist Church, where her mother, Grammy-winning gospel singer Cissy Houston, led the music program for many years. Her cousin singer Dionne Warwick also sang in its choir.
On Monday, mourners left flowers, balloons and candles for Houston at the wrought-iron fence around the tall brick church, which sits near the edge of an abandoned housing project near the train line leading to New York City.
“She was an inspiration to everybody,” said Gregory Hanks, an actor who grew up in the neighbourhood and who dropped off a bouquet of flowers.
Hanks said he saw Houston perform at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center years ago.
“I grew up listening to her as a little boy, and to hear her sing, you knew she was special,” the 26-year-old said.
Sandy Farrow, a technology consultant from Mitchellville, Maryland, who was in the area visiting relatives, said she was a senior at Clifford J. Scott High School in East Orange when Houston was a freshman.
“We felt like she put East Orange on the map,” she said.
Farrow said Houston’s death came as a shock.
“We lost somebody who I thought, after all her troubles, was coming back,” Farrow said.
Across the street from the church, Bashir Rasheed set up shop with a duffel bag full of T-shirts reading “In Memory of Whitney Houston 1963-2012.” He said he had sold 24 shirts at $10 apiece within a few hours.