Marcelo Lucero, who was beaten and stabbed to death, police...

Marcelo Lucero, who was beaten and stabbed to death, police say, as part of a hate crime perpetrated by seven teenagers in Patchogue, is seen in this photo. Credit: Lucero family

On a balmy night just blocks from the street where he was slain one week ago, Marcelo Lucero's life and death illustrated, for a gathering of several hundred in Patchogue, both the unity and division of a community.

The trappings of the viewing and memorial service yesterday in the Congregational Church of Patchogue were familiar: Lucero, dressed in a dark suit, lay with hands folded in a white-lined coffin piled with bouquets of flowers. 

A speaker recalled a happy childhood of games and family, a childhood lived in Ecuador yet familiar to nearly any community in America.

While Lucero's death has brought national and international attention to the community, the significance of the moment was felt especially deeply to those who knew him and the life of a new immigrant.

"I keep thinking, how could they do this crime?" asked Ana Gamantari, 30, who immigrated to Patchogue from Lucero's hometown of Gualaceo 10 years ago. "How much hatred for Hispanics could they have?"

Julieta Cárdenas, 37, of East Elmhurst, knew Marcelo for more than three years. Her family spent Christmas Eve with him the last two years, and they were already planning for this year's holiday, she said.

"Before this happened, I didn't think racism existed here," Cárdenas said. "Now that I've seen this happen here, I know racial hatred exists, and it's so unjust.

"When I think of those stab wounds, it's as though they were in my chest," she said. "And the reason why he died - that's what hurts me so much."

Cárdenas' son, Jorge Gonzalez, recalled fishing with Lucero, and a meal of seviche, a dish of citrus-cured seafood popular in Ecuador. The last time the pair saw Lucero, just over a month ago, he told them he'd gotten a new job that paid better than his last.

"He came here just to work, and he worked and worked," said Jorge. "He died just when he was starting to do better."

Lucero, 38, who moved to Patchogue 15 years ago, and a Hispanic friend were surrounded and attacked by seven high school students from nearby Medford and East Patchogue as they walked near the Patchogue train station on the night of Nov. 8, officials say.

The suspects, all 17 and 16 years old and students at Patchogue-Medford High School, were arrested minutes later and charged with felony gang assault. One of them, Jeffrey Conroy, also was charged with manslaughter as a hate crime for allegedly stabbing Lucero in the chest.

The seven pleaded not guilty at their arraignments on Monday. A grand jury has indicted all seven, but those charges will not be unsealed until Tuesday. On that day, an Ecuadorean government official said yesterday, Lucero's body will be returned to Ecuador, where his mother, younger sister and nephew live.

The crowd, which swelled to several hundred and threatened to overflow the church, began lining up long before the church doors opened shortly after 5 p.m.

Speaking for Lucero's brother, Joselo Lucero, who stood by his brother's coffin and embraced mourners, the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter evoked the personality of an open, talkative man who liked a good debate. "If you held up a black stone, he would claim it was deep blue," Wolter said.

Organizers said earlier this week that politicians would not be invited to speak at the service, but several attended and spoke with the crowd.

Brooklyn congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez, a Democrat, said outside the church that Hispanics are being "demonized" within the debate over immigration.

Ximena Gomez, 23, a visitor from Colorado who didn't know Lucero, said the circumstances of his death compelled her to come with her 2-year-old son, Marx.

"We have to show support," she said. "He needs to know that there are lots of Hispanics who support him."

The Rev. Allan Ramirez told the mourners near the end of the service that the name Lucero means "bright and shining star."

"May that light shine brilliantly in the darkness," he said.

This story was reported by staff writers Keith Herbert, Dave Marcus, Laura Rivera and Andrew Strickler. It was written by Strickler.

ONE WEEK ON LONG ISLAND LAST SUNDAY Police announce that Marcelo Lucero, 38, of Patchogue, was stabbed to death, collapsing in an alley near the LIRR station in the village late Saturday night. Seven teens are arrested, six charged with gang assault, one with manslaughter as a hate crime against the Ecuadorean immigrant. MONDAY Prosecutors say the seven targeted Lucero because they had been looking for a Latino person to hurt. The teens pleaded not guilty, and attorneys deny their clients were involved. Lucero's brother Joselo Lucero decries the attack. He and others say County Executive Steve Levy has contributed to an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance in Suffolk. Gov. David A. Paterson calls for state law enforcement agencies to assist in the investigation. TUESDAY Levy argues back, saying county policies are not to blame for racist attacks. As the case draws national and international attention, Levy says that if the attack had happened in Nassau, "it would be a one-day story." Cops and prosecutors say one or more of the suspects may have been involved in other incidents. WEDNESDAY From Ecuador, Lucero's mother speaks out. "He wasn't some kind of animal to kill," she says. "We are human beings." Local political and religious leaders rally in Patchogue to denounce the attack. Levy issues a five-point plan to fight hate, including creation of a Hispanic liaison to the police department and the community. THURSDAY In a letter to Newsday, Levy says he was wrong "to suggest that coverage of events in Suffolk is treated differently by the media. The horrible incident is indeed more than a one-day story. It is a reminder of how far we as a society still have to go." Levy calls for houses of worship to preach tolerance to their congregations. Representatives of the Ecuadorean government call for charges to be upgraded to second-degree murder in the case. FRIDAY A grand jury votes to indict the teens. The specific charges are to be unveiled at arraignment next week. More than 500 gather in Patchogue to honor Lucero. Suffolk police said they are investigating another Patchogue attack the same night Lucero was killed. Detectives on Friday interviewed Hector Sierra, 55, an Ecuadorean national who says he was beaten by two men who jumped out of an SUV on East Main Street.

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