NEW YORK – Seven hearses — one for each of the victims — pulled up to an old brick Catholic church in the Bronx on Friday for the funeral for seven family members who died in a horrific highway accident that sent their SUV hurling over a guardrail and into a ravine.
The hearses — two white and five black — arrived at the Church of St. Raymond, where 10 children in blue school uniforms stood in a straight line on the steps.
The coffins were carried to the front of the 19th-century church and arrayed between the altar and the front pews.
A white limousine covered in paper signs with the names of the dead and several Fordham University vans unloaded mourners at the Gothic church located behind a small cemetery. Two of the victims worked in the school's custodial department.
Hundreds of mourners filled the street before the start of the liturgy.
As congregants took part in the sharing of the peace — usually a handshake — during the bilingual Mass, dozens of relatives left their seats and embraced each other, many of them crying.
The family has gone through "a nightmare of unimaginable frightening real proportions," Monsignor John Graham told the gathering.
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, and three grandchildren.
The children were Jocelyn Gonzalez, 10, the daughter of the driver, and Niely Rosario, 7, and Marly Rosario, 3, both daughters of Nunez.
Jocelyn, who attended St. Raymond's elementary school, was to have received her First Communion this weekend.
"This is just a tragedy. Seven at one time. Three generations. No goodbye. It doesn't have to happen in your house to be a tragedy. We shed a few tears," said Direna Small, who lives nearby but did not know the family.
The little girls and their mothers were to be buried at St. Raymond Cemetery in the Bronx. The grandparents' bodies were to be returned to the Dominican Republic.
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Josu Iriondo walked down the steps from the altar and sprinkled the caskets with holy water and waved incense over them.
Police say Maria Gonzalez, the driver of the SUV, clipped a highway divider and damaged a tire before the vehicle flew off a highway and plummeted six stories into a ravine on the grounds of the Bronx Zoo.