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Bronx crash victims get final farewell at funeral

Mourners pour from the Church of Saint Raymond

Mourners pour from the Church of Saint Raymond in the Bronx after the funeral Mass for seven family members killed when the SUV they were riding in went over a railing on the Bronx River Parkway last Sunday. (May 4, 2012) Credit: Craig Ruttle

Bells rang Friday at St. Raymond's Church in the Bronx, where hundreds of mourners attended the funeral Mass for seven family members from three generations who died Sunday in a car accident that left the community reeling in grief.

Among the mourners were St. Raymond's Elementary School children, who lost their fourth-grade schoolmate Jaslyn Gonzalez, 10.

They wept and sobbed in the arms of their mothers and fathers, who rocked them in hopes of calming them as they waited to enter the church.

Classes were canceled to pay respect to Jaslyn and her family, who were killed when the SUV they were in crashed and flipped off the Bronx River Parkway.

The accident took the lives of Jaslyn's mother, Maria Nunez Gonzalez, 45, who drove the white Honda Pilot when it hit a highway median and then plunged 60 feet onto a grassy clearing in the Bronx Zoo.

Also in the car was Jaslyn's aunt, Maria Nunez Rosario, 39, and Rosario's two daughters, Naily, 7, and Marylyn, 3. Also killed were the girls' grandparents visiting from the Dominican Republic -- Jacobo Nunez, 85, and Ana Julia Martinez, 81.

More than 750 people packed St. Raymond's Church, where seven coffins -- all white -- were placed at the altar. There, seven priests blessed each coffin with holy water.

Msgr. John Graham, who gave the homily, said: "The families of Rosario, Martinez, Gonzalez and Nunez are experiencing a terrible nightmare of unimaginable proportions -- a tragic accident that was less than 2 miles from here.

"There are no human words to describe this nightmare," he told parishioners.

Graham urged everyone to have faith to help cope with "this suffocating pain. Only faith and comfort to each other will see us through."

The Mass, which was conducted in English and Spanish, did not include any words from family members, who sat in the front center pews surrounded by dozens of relatives and friends.

Outside, traffic was closed by police for the seven hearses. Neighbors from two adjacent apartment buildings watched from their windows and rooftops as the coffins were again blessed with holy water.

Bishop Josu Iriondo, who offered closing remarks, told Newsday later that "in a split second all can turn tragic. This family was celebrating a reunion when they died.

"We have to pray for faith and hope that the chalice can absorb this anguish and pain."

For Mikaela Alberty, 9, who was Jaslyn's classmate, the tears have not stopped, said her father, Miguel Alberty. "My daughter has been crying every night."

Mikaela lit a candle for her friend. "I pray and hope that Jaslyn is happy in heaven," she said.

The mothers and their daughters were to be buried at St. Raymond's Cemetery. The remains of the grandparents are expected to be returned to the Dominican Republic.

With Gary Dymski

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