A makeshift memorial grew Wednesday at the Parente home on First Street in Garden City as the affluent community and relatives grappled with the grisly details of the family's demise.
Somber as they pondered the murder-suicide that wiped out a family described by neighbors as well-liked and loving, parents outside Garden City Middle School said they tried to support their own children while struggling to explain the inexplicable.
"In the beginning, there wasn't enough information to give to the children," said Carol Kane, whose daughter played basketball with Catherine Parente, 11. "And now, maybe there's too much."
From Garden City to Baltimore, where the bodies of William Parente, 59, and Betty Parente, 58, and their daughters, Stephanie, 19, and Catherine, were found Monday afternoon, friends were speechless. The family's facade of stability and prosperity was shattered when William Parente killed his wife and daughters, then himself, according to police, and the FBI said it was investigating his financial dealings.
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"I can't even imagine what Betty felt as he came toward her," said Debbie Fusco-Gerek, of Garden City. "And then his children, to see this from Daddy. . . . Who knows what state of mind he was in?" Fusco-Gerek had to explain to her son, a sixth-grader, why fellow sixth-grader Catherine "was not coming back to school," she said.
Betty Parente's cousin, Joe Mazzarella, of Massapequa, said at the Parente home Wednesday he had been trying to get the family's Social Security numbers so he could make funeral arrangements.
"We just want to get in so we can get them home," said Mazzarella, who owns a North Bellmore funeral home.
Betty Parente's second cousin, Kathleen Amodeo, of Massapequa, said before Garden City Police let them in, they were asked to show personal effects, such as photos and greeting cards, to prove they're related.
In Baltimore, where Stephanie Parente was a sophomore at Loyola College in Maryland, her roommate of two years, Stephanie Nguyen, and other friends were too distraught to talk to reporters.
"They're inconsolable," said Nguyen's mother, Victoria.
Dozens of Catherine Parente's classmates also gathered Tuesday at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Garden City, said the Rev. Joseph Schlafer.
The assembly began with tears, he said, but as classmates shared their memories of Catherine, "these children were smiling and at times laughing."
A flag flew at half-staff Wednesday outside the middle school, where grief counselors were on campus to aid students and faculty, said principal Peter Osroff.
"Grief is the price of caring," he said, "and these are people we cared for."