Hand in hand, Christina and Rashamel Palmer publicly thanked responders Saturday for doing all they could to save their toddler son after their Brentwood home exploded last month.
Later, as they took a solemn picture with Brentwood Fire Department volunteers, Christina, 23, and Rashamel, 28, still clutched hands.
And when they spoke to reporters about the death of 18-month-old Rah-Quan, they leaned on each other, drawing support.
"It still hits us," Christina Palmer said, shortly after the couple was presented with a folded American flag. With help from Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), the flag had been flown over the U.S. Capitol in Rah-Quan's honor.
"Sometimes, just sitting down, I'll just start crying because we still think about him," the mother said.
"He made our lives; he kept us happy . . . Sometimes I just can't believe that our son is buried, gone," she said.
The brief ceremony to thank responders also served as a rally cry for change.
Brentwood activist Deborah Kirnon, who works for St. Anne Catholic Church, and members of the Brentwood Association of Concerned Citizens announced the Community Safety Initiative, a grassroots attempt to spur legislation prohibiting landlords from renting out single-family homes that aren't up to code to more than one family.
Two people died and 17 were injured after the Aug. 17 house explosion, which fire officials blamed on propane leaking from a pair of 200-pound tanks. There were tenant complaints pending about rat infestations and mold, and the owners had been fined $3,000 in June for operating an illegal rooming house.
Kirnon — who was close to the family and who last Christmas gave Rah-Quan the Winnie the Pooh doll he was buried with — said her mission is to make sure no one else dies because of unsafe living conditions.
"If it's my last breath, I will make sure this boy is never forgotten," she said.
For the Palmers, who wed days after Rah-Quan's death, the ceremony marked their first visit to Brentwood since the tragedy. The couple has been staying with out-of-state relatives.
Rashamel Palmer said he and his wife are struggling to overcome their grief.
"Keep praying for us," he said.