This story was reported by Lisa L. Colangelo, Ted Phillips and Dandan Zou. It was written by Colangelo.
Long Islanders celebrated July Fourth under sun-drenched skies at beaches, parks, main streets and backyards, with many saying it was a time to honor sacrifices made for independence and reconnect with family and friends.
“This is a day to sit and reflect on the values and what our good men and women of this country went through for our freedoms,” said Nicholas Magalios, 34, of Massapequa as he played with his 3-year-old daughter, Olivia, at the interactive water play area in Wantagh Park.
Whether it was the Independence Day parade in Port Jefferson, a race in Long Beach, or just relaxing at the shore, Long Islanders enjoyed the picture perfect weather as they commemorated the nation's 246th birthday.
Smith Point County Park in Shirley reopened Monday, one day after a lifeguard was bitten by a shark. The beach was closely monitored while crowds returned to take advantage of the sand, sun and water.
This story was reported by Lisa Colangelo, Ted Phillips, and Dandan Zou. It was written by Colangelo.
Elementary schoolteacher Meghan Busto was decked out head-to-sandals in patriotic gear, wearing an American flag print bikini, bathing suit cover-up and flip-flops at Smith Point County Park.
“We take this holiday very seriously,” she said. “We’re celebrating our freedoms, our independence.”
The day took a dark turn with news of the deadly shooting at the July Fourth parade outside Chicago. Six people were killed and more than two dozen injured when a gunman opened fire on an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Illinois Monday afternoon.
Law enforcement was a visible presence at many July Fourth gatherings in the region. The NYPD said they were ramping up and Nassau police said it "continues intensifying its patrols around all mass gatherings and areas of concern." Both departments said there had been no credible threat.
A line of people waiting to get on to FDR Drive in Manhattan stretched five blocks down First Avenue, from East 34th Street to East 29th. Some carried American flags, some carried pizza boxes, and some said they had waited for as many as three hours for prime viewing of the fireworks over the East River at one of the openings where police started allowing people in just before 6 p.m.
James Niemeyer, 35, and Sarah Semper, 28, a married couple from Manhattan got on the line as it was moving quickly shortly before 7 p.m. Niemeyer, a neuroscience researcher said of July Fourth that he's loved fireworks all his life. "It's one of my favorite days of the year," he said.
They said they had heard about the shooting in Illinois but they were confident the NYPD would keep them safe. "Obviously we wouldn't do this if we thought it was dangerous," Niemeyer said
"You can't stop living," Semper said, adding, "The city's pretty good at running these large scale events."
Magaly Lugo, 42, from the Bronx said July Fourth has taken on a special meaning since her son started serving in the Army. "The Fourth of July to me is about freedom, and the respect for those who serve their country," Lugo said.
Others on line said they weren't overly concerned about security after the shooting in Illinois as NYPD officers made their presence felt. "You always have that thought in your head," she said about the shooting.
Heidi Davis, who came to New York City with her husband Dave from Worcester, England, to celebrate her 50th birthday today said she wasn't concerned about security.
"We just see a lot of police," she said. Her husband chimed in, "There's way more police than you ever see in England."
Dion Bey, 32, an accountant from Harlem said shootings have become normal. "People get shot every day," Bey said. "It 'aint nothing new."
Back on Long Island, an excited eight-year-old Mileni Arriaza turned cartwheels in the Wantagh Park picnic area as her mom, Erika, watched. The youngster said she was looking forward to gobbling hot dogs and cooling down in the pool or spray park during a family gathering. She was also planning on other ways to beat the heat.
“It’s very hot,” Mileni said. “My cousins brought water balloons and I have squirt guns.”
Tom Hawrusik of Levittown, whop was also in the water spray section, said a good friend who served in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan was on his mind.
“We usually get to see him but he was deployed to San Diego,” Hawrusik said, following his 3 year-old son Liam as he splashed through the water play area. “It means a lot to our family to see people we don’t always have a chance to see the rest of the year.”
Arlise Hodges of West Hempstead spent part of the holiday at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn to visit the grave of her grandfather, Raymond Matthews, a World War I veteran who died in 1943, and grandmother, Albertha, who died in 1991.
“My grandmother was a woman before her time,” Hodges, 60, said, accompanied by her children and grandchildren. She described the trailblazing Albertha as a nurse and union leader who was active in local New York City politics.
“She was a mover,” Hodges recalled with a smile.
Before a family barbecue later in the day, Peter Marino came to Halesite marina to feel the breeze and watch the boats in Huntington Harbor go by — a scene he finds peaceful.
Marino, 67, of Huntington, said he saw Independence Day as a time to consider the deeper meaning of the holiday. “Despite all of our criticisms about our incredible country, all the struggle that's going on between political parties and the challenges in the world, we're still the luckiest people on the planet, from my point of view, of being able to eat well, be with family and have health and the freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want,” he said.