The coffins came in one after another. A mother and her 2-year-old daughter. Three sisters, just 8, 7 and 5.
Then came the family left behind.
Jackie Hance, the mother of the three sisters, entered Our Lady of Victory Church in Floral Park. She placed a hand over her mouth and hugged her husband, Warren, then covered her face with one hand, placing the other one over her heart.
Moments later, Warren Hance addressed the hundreds that filled the chapel and the basement Thursday, spilling outside onto the steps and lawn. They were there to mourn the loss of Hance's daughters, his sister and niece, all killed Sunday in a tragic wrong-way crash.
Calm and composed, Hance, a lifelong Floral Park resident, stood up in the church where he was married and where his daughters were baptized, and thanked the community for its outpouring of support.
"What we ask from all of you going forward is when you see us on the street, please don't look the other way. Please don't be afraid to talk to us," he implored. "You don't have to offer any more condolences. You don't have to tell us how sorry you are. Danny [Schuler], Jackie and our whole family only ask that you keep my girls, my sister and my niece, and all of us in your daily prayers."
His voice wavering, Hance told the mourners, "Love your children, cherish your children, kiss your children."
The crowd sobbed. A woman wailed.
"And do not forget . . .," Hance said, breaking down as he was led away from the altar, unable to continue.
Tragedy on the Taconic
Eight people, including a father, son and their friend, all of Yonkers, were killed in the crash. So were Schuler, her daughter, Erin, 2, and the Hances' three daughters - Emma, 8, Alyson, 7, and Kate, 5. The only survivor was Bryan Schuler, 5, the son of Diane and Daniel Schuler, who remains in the hospital.
In his eulogy, Hance referred to Bryan as "a miracle child."
"Bryan will have the opportunity to live a happy and healthy life and he will be loved by more people than he will ever understand," Hance said.
It is still not clear why Diane Schuler drove the wrong way for 1.7 miles on the Taconic before the crash. Schuler had called her brother, Warren, before the accident and he told New York State Police that his sister was disoriented and was having trouble with her vision.
Many gather to bid farewell
The mourners Thursday came from near and far, many arriving hours before the scheduled 10:30 a.m. funeral Mass. They filled the church and its basement, where the service was projected on a large screen. Outside the church, the Mass was broadcast through speakers, and chairs were set up.
Standing across the street from the church, Maryann DiCicco, 54, a local Realtor said, "I wake up in the middle of the night and ask the good Lord to just cradle that family in his arms. There are no words to ease their pain."
Toward the end of the funeral, Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre spoke to the crowd. Addressing the Hance and Schuler families, he said, "I promise my friendship."
"We will support each other," said Murphy. "I need your support, because you are men and women of tremendous faith and courage. And we all need the support of one another."
The Rev. John V. O'Farrell, who presided over the Mass, told the story of a third-grader who made the processional cross out of wood he found at the beach. "It's a symbol to me of all the love and all the people in this community that will continue to walk with you," he told the family.
At the burial at Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, family members clutched one another, placing flowers alongside the coffins while standing side by side.
With Stacey Altherr
and Daniel Harding