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Principal: 'A real sense of sadness'

A brightly colored greeting card sits on a bookshelf in Garden City Middle School Principal Peter Osroff's office. When Osroff opens the card, congratulating the school on an honor received last fall, he hears Betty Parente's voice.

"Congratulations on the Blue Ribbon award!" she says cheerily, with a hint of her Brooklyn accent. Inside the card, decorated with white stars, Parente wrote, "Catherine is loving middle school. Sixth grade according to her is very cool."

In an interview at the school Friday, Osroff said the card exemplified Parente's character. "She made everybody feel special," he said. "Her children truly reflected her."

Parente, 58, and her daughters Stephanie, 19, and Catherine, 11, were killed Sunday by Parente's husband and the girls' father, William, who then committed suicide, according to police.

The deaths have left the middle school students grieving, Osroff said.

"They're doing as well as we could hope for under the circumstances," he said. "There's a real sense of sadness. ... The word tragedy doesn't even do justice."

On Wednesday, Osroff said, nearly every sixth-grade student wore blue, Catherine's favorite color. The school had a moment of silence Thursday.

And as students began bringing bouquets of red roses and daisies to school, a space in the courtyard near a pond with a waterfall was devoted to a memorial. "It's been a place for quiet reflection," Osroff said.

Students drew sad faces streaming with tears. One drawing represented the Coach handbag Catherine carried. A student wrote, "You were always happy. That brightened up the whole class." Another drew a little girl with angel wings. A blue teddy bear sat on the ground.

Osroff, who remembered Catherine as always ready with a greeting and a smile, said the memorial's contents would eventually be offered to Parentes' relatives. School officials are discussing memorials, such as a courtyard bench, a tree and a plaque, for Catherine, who loved sports and performed in her elementary school play, Osroff said.

As they help students deal with their emotions, the school faculty has pulled together, Osroff said, with teachers covering each other's classes when they become too grief stricken.

Osroff said he spoke to Stephanie Parente, a sophomore majoring in speech pathology at Loyola College in Maryland, just a few weeks ago. She had asked and was planning to visit the middle school, perhaps in the summer, to observe the speech therapists there, he said.

As for William Parente, Osroff said he met him just once or twice. "I can't even imagine," he said, trailing off. "I can't even speak about it."

THE FUNERALS

Visitation for the Parentes - from far left, Stephanie, Catherine and Betty - will be Monday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Park Funeral Chapels, Jericho Turnpike, Garden City Park.

The funeral will be Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Joseph's Church on Franklin Avenue in Garden City. Burial will be at St. Charles Cemetery in Pinelawn.

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