They marched, one by one, in and out of the Hance family home on Vanderbilt Avenue in Floral Park Monday, some in tears and some shaking their heads. They all had the heartbreaking task of offering condolences to grieving relatives for the loss of three little girls, their aunt and cousin, who died in a horrific crash over the weekend.
Monday night, about 800 mourners gathered at Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church in Floral Park to remember Emma, 9, Alison, 7, and Kate, 5, who died Sunday afternoon when a minivan their aunt, Diane Schuler, was driving collided head-on with an SUV while going the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway.
Schuler and her 2-year-old daughter, Erin, also died in the crash. Schuler's 5-year-old son, Brian, was critically injured. Three Yonkers men also died in the collision.
Pictures of the girls adorned the big church last night, as mourners took turns remembering them, while also praying for the Schuler family and the Yonkers victims.
"She always wanted to help," said Jessica Tymecki, 11, of Floral Park, a friend of Emma's. Emma liked to participate in school plays and liked to play soccer, she said. "She'll always be in my heart."
During the day, as news of the tragedy spread quickly throughout the tight-knit neighborhood, there was a constant stream of visitors who showed up at the house to pay their respects.
"My neighbors all came to talk to me about it," said Joseph O'Donnell, 79, a longtime friend of the two families. "We are all just upset."
Floral Park Mayor Kevin Greene said his community is in mourning because the Hance family is well-known. "Their wishes are to have peace and support from within the community to help get through this," said Greene. "They're going through some hard times. We're going over there, listening to stories, just trying to help them get through it."
The three girls attended John Lewis Childs Elementary School in Floral Park, said Lynn Pombonyo, superintendent of the Floral Park-Bellerose school district. Grief counselors will be available for parents and students Tuesday and will continue to be for as long as necessary, Pombonyo said.
Neighbors said the three girls were Warren and Jacquelyn Hance's only children. "As a mother, I don't see how anyone can deal with it," said a woman who lives on the same Vanderbilt Avenue block as the Hance family.
One neighbor said she cried all night after hearing the news. "The kids were lovely, beautiful, inside and out," she said.