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.