Steven Ercolino's sister remembered the innocent time, back when she was in first grade and her big brother was in sixth. Somehow she managed to get her hands on her brother's yearbook and, testing her penmanship for one of the first times, signed her name over and over on every page.
"I signed it Maria the Grates," Maria Rashford recalled from the lectern Wednesday at the funeral Mass for her brother, who was gunned down Friday near the Empire State Building, by a co-worker nursing a simmering grudge.
"He was so mad at me," Rashford said as laughter swept through the pews of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in White Plains. "He said I didn't even spell grates right."
After that, her older brother signed every birthday card, every text message the same way. "I love you, Steven the Grates," he wrote.
As mourners gathered for their last goodbyes, bittersweet memories of Ercolino, 41, mixed with a pastor's contemplation of the senseless violence, jealousy and hatred that took his life.
"Violence is senseless," said the Rev. Philip Quealy, the pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows. "Violence is evil. We can easily say it comes from a being known as Satan if we wish. Perhaps we have to look deeper into human nature. Maybe we have to look deeper into the human heart and come to recognize that violence is possible at any time in our lives. And why? Because this is a world that often heralds as its savior, me, I, myself."
Jealousy, malice and hatred, Quealy told the mourners, "all tend to well up within our hearts and souls."
Throughout his talk, Quealy never mentioned Ercolino's assailant, Jeffrey Johnson, by name.
Johnson, 58, had worked as a designer at Hazan Imports on West 33rd Street, where Ercolino was a vice president supervising sales. Laid off about a year ago, Johnson blamed Ercolino for his misfortune, co-workers have said.