In Lakeview, a few feet from the Southern State Parkway's speeding cars, a mourning circle of 13 young people stood Monday by a tree where four friends died in a car crash.
They propped two bouquets of red roses on the tree, lit candles and bowed their heads to say farewell, their words dissipating in the noise from the passing vehicles. "Christopher, you were my first love," said Ashmini Dutt, 18, of Richmond Hill, Queens. "I can't believe I'm never going to see you again."
Christopher Khan, Neal Rajapa, Peter Anthony and Darian Ramnarine -- they were all 18, buddies since boyhood in Richmond Hill, so cool and alive just half a day ago that their friends said they had to see where they had died.
"I just couldn't believe it by hearing it," Travis Maharana, 16, of Valley Stream, said as he and two friends regrouped later on the porch of Kevin Misripersaud's Richmond Hill home, where Rajapa often visited for barbecues and sleepovers. And they saw Rajapa's Nike Jordan shoes, his glasses, his slippers.
"I still can't believe it," Maharana said. "I saw Neal last week. We all went to the mall . . . He was an outgoing person. He would always put a smile on anybody's face."
To friends, the teenagers and the sole survivor, driver Joseph Beer, 17, of Richmond Hill, were like "brothers," and to their families, the boys were like "sons."
Like family, they stayed over at one another's homes, showering, eating and playing there, said Sheron Rajapa, Neal's mother.
When Beer's father bought him a car about a month ago, Sheron Rajapa said, she had no qualms about the young driver giving her son rides: "They were very good kids and the parents trusted them."
In Richmond Hill, there was disbelief that a tight circle of buddies had been broken.
"Until I go to the funeral itself and see his [Rajapa's] body, then I'll actually believe that he passed away," said Alex Maharana, 21, of Valley Stream. "As of right now, I still think he's home . . . with his family."
With William Murphy