Shirley fire victims mourned as family prepares services

Will Morales, of Shirley, a neighbor and friend, Will Morales, of Shirley, a neighbor and friend, visits the makeshift memorial in front of the Shirley home where a fire broke out that killed Jennifer McCusker and children Aidan Tarbell, 7, and 2-year-old twins, Ava Jane and Brendan Mistretta. (Oct. 13, 2013) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Friends and neighbors on Sunday left balloons, flowers and toys outside the charred Shirley home where a woman and her three children died in a fast-moving house fire.

Jennifer McCusker, 41; Aidan Tarbell, 7; and twins Ava Jane and Brendan Mistretta, 2, were treated at the scene late Friday night after the fire engulfed their home on Hollywood Drive. They were pronounced dead later at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue.

On Sunday afternoon, some in the neighborhood where McCusker had lived all her life, left balloons, bouquets and stuffed animals on the home's lawn. Others stopped to pray or stare in disbelief at the soot-blackened home.

"He loved his scooter," said Will Morales, 16, adding that he often saw Aidan zipping around the neighborhood or playing with wrestling action figures.

Morales saw flames leaping from the home and tried to help, he said Sunday, but "I couldn't do nothing."

What sparked the fire has not yet been determined, a Suffolk County police spokeswoman said. It was not clear whether autopsies had been completed. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said Sunday that while investigators are examining the fire's cause, Brookhaven's Chief Fire Marshal Christopher J. Mehrman isn't likely to release a final report until later this week.

Visiting is tentatively set from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Roma Funeral Home, 539 William Floyd Pkwy. in Shirley, a spokeswoman said. A funeral Mass has been tentatively scheduled at St. Jude Roman Catholic Church, 89 Overlook Dr. in Mastic Beach, at 10 a.m. Friday. Burial will be in St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, according to the spokeswoman at Roma Funeral Home.

McCusker's sister Michelle, of Jackson, N.J., who also grew up in the house, said Sunday that the family was on its way to Suffolk County to meet with the medical examiner.

At the brick one-story home, blown-out windows were covered by boards. A blue plastic tarp covered part of the roof and the acrid smell of smoke still hung in the air. Candles burned near three wooden crosses surrounded by flowers.

Written on a white wooden cross were the words, "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of The Lord that will stand. Amen."

The fire has left residents stunned and in mourning, said Dan Panico, the area's representative on the Brookhaven Town Council.

"It was a terrible tragedy that's unimaginable, Panico said. "The sorrow is very great in the community. People are devastated."

With Deon J. Hampton

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