Standing behind the small white coffin that held her 18-month-old son, Christina Palmer struggled to speak. She fought with the tears, until her mother-in-law Sandra Palmer, who was standing next to her, spoke the words Christina had wanted to say.
"He was here for just a moment . . ," Sandra Palmer said, reading the poem Christina had intended to recite at Wednesday's funeral of Rah-Quan Laron Palmer, the toddler killed in last week's house explosion in Brentwood.
"Even though he's in heaven, he's not very far . . ," Sandra Palmer, of Conyers, Ga., said at an Amityville church, speaking for her daughter. "Please. Take care of my angel and send him all of my love."
More than a week after the Aug. 14 explosion that destroyed the house at 12 Prospect Dr., more than 100 friends and family mourned Rah-Quan's death at a wake and a funeral at Prayer Tabernacle Church of God in Christ. The toddler was later buried at Amityville Cemetery, where his father, Rashamel Palmer stared blankly in disbelief at the coffin.
Rashamel and Christina had been married Sunday night at a small church ceremony, said the Rev. Sandy Hill, a family spokeswoman. They wanted to be married when they buried their child, Hill said.
The blast, which Suffolk police investigators believe was triggered after propane leaked from two exterior 200-pound tanks into the house, remains under investigation. Police are not sure what sparked the gas, they said. Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick, commander of the Suffolk police Homicide Squad, said pipes from the propane tanks to appliances inside the house are being analyzed to help pinpoint where a gas leak occurred.
The explosion also claimed a second life Tuesday night. Patricia Salegna-Maqueda, 46, of North Babylon, died in the intensive care unit of Stony Brook University Hospital, Suffolk police said. Salegna-Maqueda, a State Farm insurance agent, had been inspecting the basement at 12 Prospect Dr. at the time of the explosion for a flooding claim. The blast also injured 16 others, including Rashamel and Christina Palmer.
Salegna-Maqueda's family had said she had to be sedated after being "pretty badly burned" in the explosion. Alice Salegna, 75, had described her former daughter-in-law last week as a "wonderful person . . . she works a lot and takes good care of her children." A funeral will be held Friday but there were no other details.
During Wednesday's wake, before the funeral service, Rah-Quan lay in the coffin in a little white cap and suit. A Winnie the Pooh doll sat on his lap. The coffin was closed during the funeral.
"He was happy," Christina said to reporters, as she and other family members described her son's final moments.
"He was smiling," she said.
Rah-Quan had been watching "SpongeBob SquarePants," said Anthony Palmer, his great-uncle. He and his parents had also just telephoned his paternal grandmother. His last words, said Hill, were, 'Happy birthday, Grandma.' "
"Ten minutes later the house came crashing down," Anthony Palmer said. "It wasn't like he was sick. They [his parents] didn't have a chance for even a kiss goodbye."
With Chau Lam