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Families take care of Flight 800 memorial

John Seaman, one of the drectors of the

John Seaman, one of the drectors of the Flight 800 Memorial, tands near a granite etching at the site in Shirley. (July 16, 2011) Credit: Ed Betz

The planting, tending, weeding and watering was on track, and mica from the memorial sparkled; but on the eve of their most important day of the year, the TWA Flight 800 memorial site managers found landscaping laid to waste.

Deer struck overnight Friday, ruining baskets of petunias planted specially for today's 15th anniversary of the crash that killed 230.

"They haven't hit us in a while and now this," site manager Chris Carlisle said Saturday.

Some family members who will gather for today's twilight ceremony stopped by the Smith Point County Park site in Shirley Saturday. Many wonder who will look after the memorial when they're gone.

It costs about $100,000 to $150,000 annually to keep up the $15-million memorial, built at the closest point to where the Paris-bound plane crashed.

Long Island natives Eleanor and John Seaman, aunt and uncle of crash victim Michele Becker, 19, travel regularly from Albany to oversee upkeep on behalf of the Families of Flight 800 Association.

They work with Frank Lombardi, of the Moriches-based Independent Home Living Program, whose developmentally disabled clients help maintain the site. Other support comes from the county parks and labor departments and County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco. County jail inmates help with cleanup and lay 200 yards of mulch each spring.

At the memorial yesterdaySaturday, they spoke of the pride they felt as Long Islanders when the community reached out after the disaster. "It feels good to know this is a place the community can enjoy, and find peace and solace," Eleanor Seaman said.

When the tragedy happened, she said, "we were intensely proud to know that we were from here when everyone here opened their hearts to us.""We're not getting any younger," said John Seaman. For three years, the association has been trying to raise $2 million to $3 million to maintain the site in perpetuity. So far, $170,000 has been raised. Representatives from the association's board also hope to meet county executive candidates Angie Carpenter and Steve Bellone to discuss county funding.

Association president Aurelie Becker, Michele's mother, said it was never envisaged the families would take care of the monument. "We saw it as our job to get it built and that when it was done, the community would take care of it. That's what we hoped because that's what we were told," she said.

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