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Friends, families gather in Jericho to remember slain kin

The 36th annual candlelight vigil was held in honor of victims of homicide at the Milleridge Inn in Jericho on Sunday, April 23, 2017. Family members drew comfort in the camaraderie as well as the support of the police department and district attorney's office. Credit: Steve Pfost

It has been 10 years since construction worker Michael Gilbert shot his wife Melanie to death and then killed himself, but Wendy Recchia said the pain of losing her best friend and neighbor remains as sharp as ever.

But Recchia, of Mastic Beach, said providing support and comfort to others who have also lost loved ones to violence has brought healing, despite the circumstances that have brought them together.

“It feels good to put your arms around them and say ‘I know how you feel,’ ” she said Sunday during the annual vigil organized by the Long Island/New York Metro Area chapter of Parents and Other Survivors of Murdered Victims Outreach Inc. “The pain is never going to go away, but if this is what I have to do to keep Mel’s memory alive, then this is what I have to do.”

Recchia was among the 170 people who attended the vigil at The Milleridge Inn in Jericho. Many wore buttons with photographs of friends and family members who had died. The names of about 650 murder victims whose relatives and friends are members of the organization were read during the event.

Recchia and others at the vigil said the brutal killings of four young men whose bodies were found this month in a Central Islip park provided yet another reminder of their own loss and grief. Suffolk police said they believe the killings were committed by the MS-13 street gang.

“You can grieve in your own way, but coming together with a group like this makes it easier to grieve,” Recchia said. “This starts as a somber event, but it becomes a celebration of life as we share stories and pictures. Everyone here wants to keep their loved one’s memories alive.”

Elizabeth Alvarado, whose daughter Nisa Mickens and her best friend were killed in September, attended the event with Mickens’ father, Robert Mickens.

“No parent, no sibling, nobody needs to go through what we’ve been through,” said Alvarado, of Brentwood. “My condolences go out to the families of those four boys. So many families have gone through this tragedy. It is a hard thing. It is a really hard thing.”

Authorities said they suspect Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, were killed by members of MS-13.

Barbara Connelly, director of the local Parents and Other Survivors of Murdered Victims Outreach chapter, said she helped form the support group in 1981, shortly after her son James, 15, was stabbed to death in 1979. The group meets on the fourth Friday of the month at 7:30 p.m. at the North Shore Child and Guidance Center in Roslyn.

“Time does not heal all wounds,” said Connelly, of Shirley. “In 1979 I was all alone and I thought there was no hope. We started this to make the people who came after me feel not so alone. Hope is the most important thing we can share.”

Connelly’s grandson, Terence “Tee-Jay” Greene, 24, said he never met his Uncle Jimmy, but that his death has played a pivotal role in his life. The Nassau County police detectives who investigated the slaying and helped put his uncle’s killer behind bars helped bring a sense of peace to his family, Greene said, and that has inspired him to apply to the Suffolk County Police Department. He hopes to eventually become a homicide detective.

Recchia said she still doesn’t understand why Michael Gilbert shot his wife and then turned the weapon on himself. The couple did not have a history of domestic violence, she said.

“We never saw this coming, never,” Recchia said. “There was something obviously going on in his head. We went from backyard barbecues to crime-scene tape.”


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