NEW YORK — Seven shiny white caskets crowded the front of an old brick Catholic church in the Bronx on Friday for the funeral of seven members of one family, all killed when their SUV flew over a guardrail and plummeted 60 feet.
One of the caskets lining the altar at St. Raymond's Church was smaller than the rest; it contained a 3-year-old. Another held a 10-year-old girl, a day before what was to have been her First Holy Communion.
The pastor, Monsignor John Graham, said the family had been through "a nightmare of unimaginable, frightening, real proportions."
One mourner, Direna Small, described the tragedy succinctly: "Seven at one time. Three generations. No goodbye."
Killed in Sunday's wreck were Jacob Nunez and Ana Julia Martinez, who were visiting from the Dominican Republic community of Manuel Bueno; their daughters, Maria Gonzalez and Maria Nunez; Gonzalez's daughter, Jocelyn Gonzalez, 10; and Maria Nunez's daughters Niely Rosario, 7, and Marly Rosario, 3.
Police say Maria Gonzalez was driving on the elevated Bronx River Parkway when the SUV clipped the median, then crossed three lanes of traffic and hit a curb that launched it over the guardrail and down to the grounds of the Bronx Zoo.
Hundreds of relatives and friends arrived for the funeral Friday morning, some in a long white limousine that bore paper signs with the names of the dead. A church bell tolled slowly and a dozen children from the parish elementary school – which Jocelyn attended – lined the church steps as a kind of honor guard.
The funeral came one day before Jocelyn planned to celebrate her First Holy Communion, Graham said.
Police closed off busy Castle Hill Avenue before the seven hearses arrived. About 200 people without connections to the family lined up in hopes of getting in to the funeral, but the church, built in 1903, was packed well beyond its 650-person capacity with friends and family. Scores of people stood through the Mass, where hymns, incense and sorrow filled the air.
Prayers were said in English and Spanish, and a choir sang hymns in both languages.
At a point in the Mass where congregants share a sign of peace – usually a handshake – dozens of relatives left their pews for long embraces with each other, many of them crying. The display affected many other mourners; a nun dabbed at her eyes, an usher's lower lip quivered.
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Josu Iriondo walked down the steps from the altar, sprinkled the caskets with holy water and waved incense over them.The girls and their mothers were buried at St. Raymond Cemetery in the Bronx, Graham said. The grandparents' bodies were to be returned to the Dominican Republic.