Memorial Service Draws Few Families
By Howard Schwach
A rainy and cold Mother's Day morning memorial service for the victims of American Airlines Flight 587 drew approximately 30 mourners to the crash site at Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue on Sunday morning.
The largely-Dominican families who attended the service heard a sermon from Father Fulgencio Guterrez, a priest at St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church in Far Rockaway, sang songs and released doves into the darkening skies.
Although local police provided protection for the small group and a number of media representatives took pictures and interviewed family members, there were no Rockaway residents in obvious attendance.
And, while the memorial service was the reason for being at the site, there were many discussions about two controversial issues: a site for a memorial to those 265 people who died on the aircraft when it augured into Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001 and what should be done with the still-unidentified remains now being held by the city's medical examiner.
The site for a local memorial seemed to many observers to be the more compelling question on Mother's Day.
Prior to the service, Belkis Lora, the executive director of the Committee In Memory of Flight 587, one of the several groups that purport to represent the families of the victims, told Newday reporter Ron Howell that the memorial was "meant to send a message that she and other Dominicans are determined to build a memorial on the site of the crash."
Douglas Montero, a columnist for the New York Post was one of a number of journalists at the service, including two from The Wave.
The reporters often gathered around the few family members present. Montero interviewed a young woman, Lori Ann Albert, whose 10-month-old son, Jayke, died on the flight.
She was angry at the fact that some of the land at the site where homes had once stood had been sold to those who plan to rebuild.
"Why would somebody want to build a house on land where 265 people died," she asked. "It's like building a house on a cemetery."
A woman at the site, who asked not to be identified, told The Wave that she came to the site each Sunday, and that she would continue to come despite the fact that she "did not feel welcome in the community."
"This is where my mother died," she said, "and this is where there should be a memorial."
Many Belle Harbor residents are unalterably opposed to an on-site memrial.
Sandy Weisser, whose mother's home is right across the street from the land that the Dominican groups want for a memorial, told The Wave at the first anniversary of the crash, "This is not a cemetery, it is where we live and we do not want to make a cemetery or a memorial out of our neighborhood."
Liz Sulik is the executive director of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce, but she is also a Belle Harbor resident. Speaking as a resident rather than as a representative of the community, Sulik says, "This was the second most deadly aircraft accident in American history and we can't let it disappear into nothing. We need a tasteful, appropriate plaque at the site. That would go well with the trees that we have planted and with the other things that we have done."
She added that her comments would probably not find much favor with others in the Belle Harbor community, and she agrees with them that the
"community needs to return to some form of normalcy."
"There has been little movement on a plan for a memorial, as far as I know," Sulik added, once more a community representative. "I have really stepped back from the process."
Congressman Anthony Weiner told The Wave on Wednesday that he has been working with the victim's families.
"I am doing the best that I can to bring comfort to the families and to come up with an appropriate memorial," Weiner said. "I want to respect their wishes for an appropriate memorial at the site, but I also want them to respect the residential nature of the Belle Harbor neighborhood."
Three family members who have become regular visitors to Rockaway as well, wanted to discuss the problem of the unidentified bodies more than the site for a memorial.
The three are Hector Algarroba, John Brady and James Monte.
Algarroba, who heads a foundation dedicated to sports in the Dominican Republic, said that the various organizations who seek to represent the families cannot get together on the issue of burying those remains that cannot be identified.
A letter was sent recently by officials to all the families, detailing the process that must be followed.
"By law, unidentified remains must be buried in a cemetery in the City of New York," the letter reads. "This is done so that, should the technology become capable of identifying the remains in the future, the city will be able to perform those identifications and notify the families."
According to the letter, two cemeteries have been selected and families will be asked to vote as to which each prefers.
The two cemeteries are Trinity and St. Raymond's, both in upper Manhattan.
The letter suggests that family members visit the two cemeteries prior to making a decision, but the groups vying for the right to represent the victims cannot get together on a way to make the final decision, according to Algarroba.