Top Newark Cop Urges Fans to Steer Clear of Houston Church Saturday

Police chief urges fans to watch livestream of service, stay away from church.

Newark's top cop urged the throngs of Whitney Houston fans expected to descend on the city for the superstar's private, invite-only funeral to stay home Saturday as police plan to lock down streets near the church.

Houston will be laid to rest after the noon service at New Hope Baptist Church, where she sang in the choir as a child. The perimeter surrounding the church -- about six square blocks -- will be shut down beginning at 7 a.m., Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio said at a news briefing. 

Only family members and individuals invited to the funeral will be allowed within that inner perimeter, he said.

"I would advise the public that there really is going to be nothing to see here at the church. The best thing to do would be to stay home and watch the service on television," DeMaio added. "The privacy the family is seeking for the funeral ... the NPD is going to do everything they can to ensure that."

Police have already closed Sussex Avenue, and dozens of officers will be working overtime Saturday to enforce the six-block frozen zone.

Some taxpayers in Newark weren't happy about happy for security at a funeral they couldn't attend.

"That's the reason why we should have an opportunity to view the body, as well as the family, because she was a public figure, and most of her money came from the public," said Pat McNeal, a Houston fan outside the New Hope Baptist Church Thursday.

"To prohibit the public from going is kind of ridiculous," added Ross Brown, another fan. "They should have made it like a Michael Jackson kind of thing."

Though the ceremony will be closed to the public, Houston's publicist said a single camera will be allowed inside the church, enabling millions of fans worldwide to view it live online. NBC 4 New York is planning to carry that livestream here on Saturday. 

The 18,000-seat Prudential Center had been planned as a setting for a public memorial, but the family decided to keep services private. A private viewing is scheduled for Friday at Whigham Funeral Home, though fans are expected to flock to the area for a chance at getting a glimpse of Houston's relatives.

"Whitney has shared her entire life with the public. This is her final farewell. Let her family share that time with her," said Carolyn Whigham, owner of the funeral home handling the arrangements. 

Many fans seemed resigned to the reality of a private funeral by Thursday night, choosing to express their grief outside the church before the streets became off-limits.

"I understand the family needs their privacy," said Nekema Parker. "I respect that. They did share her for a long time, and I appreciate that."

The live viewing will provide a much-needed connection for fans who have lacked a formal place to eulogize Houston, who was found dead in a Beverly Hills, Calif., bathtub last Saturday. She was 48.   

Aretha Franklin, legendary soul singer and godmother to Houston, will perform at the service and gospel singer Marvin L. Winans, a longtime friend of Houston, will deliver the eulogy, NBC New York has learned. 

Houston's cousin Dionne Warwick was also expected to be at the funeral, as she was seen entering the church Thursday afternoon.

The Rev. Joe Carter said the Houston family was planning a service that would be "very musical" and a "joyful celebration of life." 

"We're looking to help the family grieve and mourn the loss, and at the same time, add some joy to this very sad, sad moment," he added.

DeMaio said Houston's funeral would not be a traditional procession with respect to a motorcade. Her family will arrive at an undisclosed time, as will her remains, he said. Guests are expected to begin arriving around 11 a.m.

Fans who show up despite precautions will be directed to staging areas outside the locked down perimeter, DeMaio said. He stressed that no video feeds other than the live webcast would be available.

The church seats about 1,500. Gov. Chris Christie said flags will fly at half-staff throughout the state on Saturday.

Houston was born in Newark and raised in East Orange. Many said she never forgot her Jersey roots.

Her mother, Grammy award-winning gospel singer Cissy Houston, led the musical program at New Hope Baptist Church. Whitney's cousin, singer Dionne Warwick, also sang in its choir.

Mourners flocked to the 112-year-old church after the news of her death over the weekend.

Houston's family is asking that any donations in her memory be sent to the arts-focused public school in East Orange she attended as a child, which is now named after her. Contact information for the school can be found here.

Full Whitney Houston coverage here. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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