From the altar at Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church in Floral Park on Monday, Terence Malone strained to read aloud a poem to his departed sisters, Jamie and Paige.
"Our family chain is broken, and nothing seems the same," said Malone, 26. "But as God calls us, one by one, the chain will link again."
Hundreds of grieving friends and family members filled the pews of the church sanctuary and chapel for Monday's funeral Mass, while hundreds more braved a rain shower outside to hear a broadcast of the service from a plaza across the street.
"Jamie and Paige, they left us in the springtime of their lives, and it doesn't make sense," said the Rev. Bruno Dekrem, associate pastor, calling the sisters "the sunshine of our neighborhood."
More than 300 miles away, at the University of Richmond in Virginia, members of the Malone sisters' college community held vigil at the same time by lighting hundreds of candles and praying for the souls of Jamie, 22, and Paige, 19.
They and Michael Mulhall, 22, were killed in a single-car crash on the Meadowbrook Parkway on Thursday morning about 8:50, as they and two others headed to work at a summer camp in Lido Beach.
State police had no comment Monday on what might have caused the crash, saying only that their investigation is continuing. They have said alcohol has been ruled out as a contributing factor.
Mulhall's sister, Justine Mulhall, 20, was driving the 2010 Honda Civic when it left the roadway and hit a tree, authorities said. She and Kelly Murphy, 20, of Floral Park, were hospitalized and released, officials said. Murphy attended yesterday's service.
The deaths cast a pall of grief over the tiny village and Camp Anchor, a camp for disabled children where the Malone sisters had worked or volunteered since age 14.
Monday, as hearses carrying the young women neared the church, scores of fellow counselors, clad in their white polo shirts with "Staff" printed on the back, raised their hands and, using sign language, said "I love you."
During the Mass, Mack Clair, 22, shared his devotion to Jamie with hundreds of mourners by reading a biblical passage about love. "There are, in the end, three things that last: faith, hope and love. The greatest of these is love," he read. And when he added his own words - "Jamie, I am so in love with you" - cries burst from the pews.
Though the sense of loss permeated the Mass in Floral Park and the service in Virginia, religious leaders, including Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, infused their remarks with light touches and rays of hope.
In Richmond, the grieving placed piles of daisies, "a sign of hope for new life," before a memorial fountain, said the Rev. Craig Kocher, chaplain of the university.
O'Dwyer Randall, at the university, said a memorial service is being planned for the end of August, when the fall semester begins and most students return to campus.
In Floral Park, Dekrem drew from the name of Camp Anchor a metaphor for the emotion that sustains a family and community through their suffering. "We all know that a ship needs an anchor, especially in rough times, in rough seas," he said. "Well, we here together - Floral Park, the university, Anchor Camp, family and friends - we live through a horrible time, we have to be anchored in hope."
With Evan Klonsky and Gary Dymski,
and Reilly Moore in Richmond, Va.