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Vigil

Selden residents lay out candles to spell Jenna’s name on the Newfield High School football field. Photo by Kyle Barr

On the green turf football field at Newfield High School, the Selden community, also swaddled in different shades of green, laid out candles in the grass. The crowd came together like a tide. As they stepped back, the candles spelled out the name “Jenna.” Underneath her name, the flickering yellow and green electric candles and tealights also framed a heart.

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Jenna Perez, 17, a Selden resident who worked at the Five Guys in Port Jefferson Station was killed Aug. 24 while crossing Route 347 southbound at around 9:25 p.m. She crossed around 300 feet west of Terryville Road, police said. The driver who hit her sped off, and police said they are still searching for that person.

“She was one incredible kid from the day I met her,” said Scott Graviano, the Newfield High School principal. “A very quiet spirit, but always with a smile on her face, always saying hello. And with that sweet, soft quiet personality, she gained the love of support and respect of this entire community.”

For the hundreds of community members looking for ways to heal, remembering Perez as the loving and outgoing high schooler was the best way to deal with their pain. Wearing green, Perez’s favorite color, friends, family, faculty and more from the community held glowing electric candles while the sky slowly darkened Aug. 31. Several friends spoke for her, talking and remembering her fun-loving personality.

“She lived a short life but clearly left a significant imprint,” said Asia Austin to the crowd gathered at the vigil. “As someone who has been grieving recently, I want those to understand that we should not follow down that road in thinking we have no purpose … with support from family and friends, you will find yourself and you will be OK.”

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Donna Austin was her guardian for the past three years, taking care of Perez and her twin sister Janell in Selden. She had met the twins in 2008 when they were 8 years old living in the Bronx as she went there to take care of one of their relatives. Austin would eventually run a community center out of the building where the Perez family lived, and the twins would always be there to decorate her offices for whatever holiday came up. When their grandmother died, she took both sisters in to live with her back in her hometown of Selden.

“Jenna’s face would have lit up, and she would have been smiling, looking at all of her friends who had come to her like this,” Austin said.

Their caretaker said Jenna thrived in Selden, making innumerable friends and rising higher at Five Guys. She was set to take up her first supervisor training sessions at Five Guys on her birthday Sept. 6. Austin said she had been extremely excited and proud. 

Naziyah Dash, one of Perez’s high school friends, said she has been heartbroken since she learned of her friends death.

“Your story will always be cherished,” she said. “I will keep you alive in my heart.” 

The community is helping monetarily with three separate GoFundMe pages that have been set up in  Perez’s name. The first, which is donating funds to twin sister Janell, has reached close to $9,500. The other two GoFundMe pages are for funeral expenses.

Newfield High School Principal Scott Graviano speaks at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The Newfield community is an amazing place — deep rooted, full of love and support, and that’s evident here tonight,” said the principal. “Janell, we love you very much as a community, I hope you know that. We will continue to love and support you.”

An additional memorial service will be held Sept. 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Church on the Sound, 335 Oxhead Road in Stony Brook.

A funeral for Perez will be held at Ortiz Funeral Home, 524 Southern Blvd. in the Bronx Sept. 11 from 4 to 9 p.m. Burial will be at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx Sept. 12 with a time still to be determined.

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On Tuesday, July 30, over 100 community members came together at Cedar Beach West to celebrate the lives of three young Mount Sinai natives who perished in a single car crash along Mount Sinai-Coram Road July 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

The heart of Mount Sinai still aches, and for those who attended a vigil at Cedar Beach for the four recent deaths of their community members, tears could be seen behind the dark of sunglasses.

On Tuesday, July 30, well over 100 community members came together at Cedar Beach West to celebrate the lives of three young Mount Sinai natives who perished in a single car crash along Mount Sinai-Coram Road July 9. Dorien Lashea Brown, 23, of Mount Sinai; Rebecca Minunno, 24, of Hampton Bays and Casi Fricker, of Port Jefferson, all died as the SUV they were driving hit a utility pole, which toppled over the vehicle and the electricity caused the car to catch on fire.

“I never pictured this is where we’d be, I would lose my closest friends,” said Gianna Rubino, a friend of the girls. “Everyone’s lives have been flipped upside down.”

On Tuesday, July 30,  over 100 community members came together at Cedar Beach West to celebrate the lives of three young Mount Sinai natives who perished in a single car crash along Mount Sinai-Coram Road July 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

As residents were still trying to come to terms with their deaths, the community experienced another loss. Robert Grable, the principal of the local high school, died unexpectedly while doing his morning routine July 19. He was 49.

Families and friends laid out near the bluff spread a collage of photographs, showing the girls and the principal in the prime of their lives. Friends and close family members came forward to speak, remembering the girls as the youth they were. Brown was often called a “firecracker” who could make a person laugh with just a look. Fricker was called “strong,” willing to make sure her friends were treated well at hair salons and the like, and also having a unique way with animals.

“Casi and Dorien, you were iconic, you were both so bright,” said Nicole Branca. “You had the kind of energy that some of us just could not keep up with, and I think that’s what we loved about you.”

Minunno had become active in the retro model pinup scene with The Luscious Ladies, a group of vintage pinup enthusiasts with chapters across the world.

One of those who spoke, who goes by the name “Dizzy Doll” in the pinup world, said the entire community was mourning her.

“When a pebble is thrown in a lake, the entire lake is affected. Every life has a wider effect in people’s lives then we realize,” she said. “Becca was and still is an inspiration to us.”

Renee Petrola, a retired teacher in Mount Sinai, taught both Brown and Fricker, and read the poems they wrote for a contest in sixth grade, both titled “How did I change?”

The vigil was organized by a small community group dubbed the “angel squad,” which included several community members and best friends of the girls who passed. Opening remarks were made by Donna Murph, the lead planner for the squad who had been guidance counselor to Brown and longtime coworker of Grable.

“Mount Sinai is profoundly saddened by the loss of these four beautiful souls,” Murph said. “May these families feel the support and love of this community and a reminder they are never alone.”

On Tuesday, July 30, over 100 community members came together at Cedar Beach West to celebrate the lives of three young Mount Sinai natives who perished in a single car crash along Mount Sinai-Coram Road July 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

A few stepped forward in the grey twilight and bending over they laid their flowers in the gentle tide of the Sound. First, a little more than five came forward. Then, unbidden, members of the families came forward to the beach’s edge. The Brown family kneeled over, and sank their flowers into the Sound. Their heads low, then rising, they tossed theirs into the water.

The faces turned to the waning sunset and walked forward, first 10, then well over 100. They were largely silent, except for the music in the background and their soft murmurs, muttering memories of the loved ones they lost.

As the sky went dark, the families attempted to light floating lanterns for their deceased though the wind played against them. The Brown family managed to get theirs lit, and the lantern rose 20 feet up, hovering above the surf before gently sinking into the water, the light of the lantern’s fire staying lit for several minutes, even on the black waters of the Sound.

Stepping forward to speak, Joe Caggiano said he had worked with Fricker at the Jamesport Brewery, adding he came to see her as his closest friend at work. The day of July 9 was one they shared with laughs, also having talked on the phone with Minunno, making a joke by saying “hi” to each other, over and over.

“We had a lot of fun on that Monday — she laughed a lot,” he said.

They shared a beer with each other after work, where they spoke about “life, where we wanted to be, what we wanted to do and the people in our lives, and all those things … that was a really special time in getting to sit with her.”

Ciaria Colson, Brown’s cousin, then came up to the mike, and talked of her family member as the pinnacle of what being a friend could be.

“She made a point to have a relationship with each and every one of her friends,” she said. “My little cousin was nine years younger than me, but she inspired me … me and my cousins have a closer bond now because of her.”

Colson asked all her friends to step up and come together. They gathered together, nearly 20 in all. She asked them all to hold each other and to support each other.

“I want you guys in this time, to grab a hold of each other, support each other and develop relationships with each other,” she said. “If you have a close relationship, have a closer relationship … because I know I didn’t live my best life — I didn’t live it, my cousin lived it.”

 

Marcelo Lucero

REMEMBERING MARCELO LUCERO A DECADE AFTER HIS DEATH

Campus, community members to mark anniversary with Nov. 8 vigil at Stony Brook University

 Ten years to the date of the hate crime killing of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero, students, faculty and community members will gather at Stony Brook University for a night of remembrance and reflection.

“Our Town: Ten Years Later,” an educational vigil, will take place on Thursday, Nov. 8, from 7 to 9 p.m., in the university’s Students Activities Center (SAC) auditorium. Marcelo’s brother Joselo Lucero will address the crowd, along with Patchogue-Medford Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes and filmmaker Susan Hagedorn.

Six campus partners are sponsoring the vigil: the Undergraduate Student Government (main sponsor); the Hispanic Languages and Literature Dept.; Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Dept.; Center for Civic Justice; Office of Multicultural Affairs; and Campus Residences.

The program will feature the screening of a special one-hour-long edited version of Deputized,Hagedorn’s documentary about the 2008 attack on Lucero by seven teens that intentionally sought Latinos to assault during a night of what they termed “beaner hopping.” A discussion and Q&A session will follow.

Remarks by Dr. Hynes, whose school district includes Patchogue Village, where Marcelo was slain, will begin the evening. The Lucero Award-winning video from the UN Plural+ Youth Video Festival on Migration, Diversity & Social Inclusion will be shown preceding Deputized.

Given the current national climate of division and distrust of immigrants, organizers say this year’s vigil is more important than ever to promote understanding of and respect for cultural differences. However, despite the international attention Marcelo’s fatal stabbing received and resulting calls for improved treatment of immigrants particularly by police, his brother’s story is not “political,” Joselo Lucero stressed.

“This is a human issue,” he said. “This is not about legal or illegal, documented or undocumented. This is about what happened to a human being. That’s what we will be remembering and realizing on November 8th.”

Co-organizer Ian Lesnick, assistant to the president and director of diversity affairs for the Undergraduate Student Government, added that the vigil also provides an opportunity for us “to reflect on ourselves as a society to see how we’ve changed and where we continue to grow.”

Marcelo and a friend were walking near the LIRR tracks in Patchogue when they were attacked by the seven youth. The killing sent shockwaves across Long Island and beyond, generated hundreds of news stories and sparked numerous community dialogues, a play, a novel and a PBS documentary .

The vigil is free of charge and open to the public. Free parking is available in the SAC lot. Upon driving onto the Stony Brook campus, follow signs to the Student Activities Center.

For information, contact 631-258-2016 or ilesnick@stonybrookusc.org.

Residents at the Town of Huntington's vigil for Dix Hills native Scott Beigel. Photo by Kevin Redding

Scott Beigel was a beloved teacher, coach and son, and on Feb. 14, he became a hometown hero.

The Florida school shooting hit close to home for Huntington residents, who joined together inside Town Hall March 14 for a candlelight vigil in honor of the Dix Hills native. Beigel died protecting students from danger as a geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Beigel, 35, who graduated from Half Hollow Hills East, was one of 17 killed during the tragedy. He was shot while attempting to lock his classroom door after holding it open for students fleeing from the gunman. Beigel had only been teaching at Parkland for six months, but also served as the high school’s cross-country coach.

“[Scott] was a hero not just on the day he died but every day of his life, to his students and the people whose lives he often helped,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “We have unfortunately seen these incidents happen far too many times … but I do truly believe that Scott’s death and what happened in Parkland is something that will change this country. His heroism will change our country and save many, many lives. That will be his legacy.”

Michael Schulman and Linda Beigel Schulman. Photo by Kevin Redding

During the ceremony, Beigel was remembered for his “goofball” sense of humor, selflessness and a true love for his job and the students he taught.

Prior to working in Florida, he was a camp counselor and division leader at Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania and a volunteer teacher for underprivileged children in South Africa.

Half Hollow Hills Superintendent Patrick Harrigan said in honor of Beigel, students at the local high schools have implemented a 17 acts of kindness initiative to improve the culture of their environment and make an effort to prevent another senseless tragedy from occurring.

“Scott was a new teacher, only six months into his tenure, and already making a difference every day for his students,” Harrigan said. “As an educator, it is my hope that Mr. Beigel’s lasting legacy is as a child advocate, a teacher, a coach and an inspiration to other teachers to always improve the lives of their students and the children in their communities.”

Looking up at a large photo of her son, Beigel’s mother Linda Beigel Schulman held back tears and said, “I love you Scott … you will forever be my inspiration and hero.”

She called to action the need for gun control legislation including universal background checks before purchasing a firearm; a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; and an increase in the minimum gun-buying age from 18 to 21. She also commended students who participated in the National School Walkout.

“We need action now and we will continue to be heard,” Beigel Schulman said. “When Scott was a child and came home from school, I worried about what kind of a day he would have; I did not worry about if he was going to come home from school.”

Beigel Schulman then turned to look upon a photograph of her son again.

“You may have died senselessly, but as I stand here today, I can honestly say not in vain,” she said. “It has been one month and I promise I will not stop until no child ever has to fear going to school, being with their friends at school and learning from their teachers [at school].”

A street sign that will rename Hart Place in honor of Dix Hills native Scott Beigel. Photo by Kevin Redding

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) unveiled the new street sign renaming Hart Place, where Beigel grew up and where his parents still reside, to become Scott J. Beigel Way.

Tragedies such as Parkland, Lupinacci said, “especially touch home when you have someone that grew up here, went to the high school, went to many of the same stores we go to … We thought it very fitting for where he grew up and spent his formative years to be renamed in his honor.”

The supervisor said a proper ceremony for the street renaming will take place in the upcoming weeks.

“We just want Scott’s voice and legacy to live on — we don’t want him to ever be forgotten,” said Melissa Zech, Beigel’s sister. “I think he would be so proud and I know we’re so proud of him. ― He was so smart, quick-witted, caring and loving. These are things I wish I would’ve told him when he was here.”

Michael Schulman, Beigel’s father, also spoke of the honor.

“This took us all by surprise,” he said. “It’s a great acknowledgement of what this town meant to him, and what he meant to the town. Right now, the street sign is something that’s bittersweet, but, in the years to come, it’ll just be sweet. I just wish we didn’t have to have it.”

Huntington Town Board is expected to formally vote on renaming Hart Place in Beigel’s memory at its March 20 meeting. Lupinacci also said the new street sign would be put on public display for area residents to see.

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Residents read the names of all Charleston and Orlando victims, who each had a candle lit in their memory. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

On Friday evening, a diverse group of pastors and residents showed that, in the wake of unspeakable tragedy, there is more good in the world than evil.

They gathered together at the Mount Sinai Congregational Church to honor the nine churchgoers who were killed a year ago in a shooting spree during a peaceful Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as the 49 killed in an all-too-similar fashion in a gay nightclub in Orlando last week. While both massacres are products of hatred and bigotry, those who attended Friday’s service united under a theme of love and acceptance.

The service of remembrance was organized by the Mount Sinai church and the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Setauket, where a North Shore family related to one of the nine people shot and killed go regularly and last year’s service for victims was held. Just a week after 21-year-old Dylann Roof sat down in a Charleston church, participated in the readings, engaged with others, and ultimately stood up to open fire and take lives, the Three Village community showed up in droves to pay respects.

Greatly touched by the healing that took place, Bethel AME pastor Rev. Gregory Leonard and Mount Sinai resident Tom Lyon were quick to ensure this year’s anniversary service and, in light of another mass murder, a call for unity and support seemed necessary now more than ever.

Willie White, a Setauket resident, holds up a picture of his second cousin, a victim in the Charleston shooting. Photo by Kevin Redding
Willie White, a Setauket resident, holds up a picture of his second cousin, a victim in the Charleston shooting. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s important that people of goodwill come together,” Leonard said to the intimate and emotional crowd. “We have to build bridges and get to know each other. As I press on in years, I think about the legacy that we will leave, and I hope all of us can say at one point that we were building some bridges, we came together and we cared and didn’t just let a moment pass us by.”

Setauket church member Willie White held up a picture of his cousin, the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, one of the victims in Charleston, and spoke at length about dealing with a tragedy that hits so close to home.

His family in Charleston had to wait hours after news broke of the shooting before they knew anything, he said, reduced to unbearable panic trying to call and get hold of their loved one, who would soon be confirmed as one of the fallen.

He called to action the importance of not seeing one another as different, saying that we are capable of avoiding future tragedies if we stand together. This is something he notices often in the aftermath of a traumatizing incident.

“I saw people of all walks of life hugging each other,” White said. “Why can’t we live like that every day? On that particular night, Charleston changed. The people changed. Unfortunately, it took nine lives for a change. I’m sure there’s gonna be a change in Florida. But look how many lives it took. We can think back on so many lives that have been taken with guns. And still, guns are on the market.”

Emotionally battered and certainly passionate about a need for change, Shahina Chaudry, a Muslim from the area, stood up and explained that her brother was among the 67 people killed by terrorists in the 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya, and she understands exactly what the grieving families are going through.

“May God be with them, may God make them strong,” she said. “And may there be big, big changes in this country and may we all be part of those changes. I’m happy to be with all of you.”

A resident named Ira Apsel then stood up and faced Chaudry, offering his condolences.

“An old Hebrew prayer is ‘shalom aleichem,’ meaning ‘peace be with you’, and the response is ‘aleichem shalom,’ meaning ‘and also with you’… Shalom aleichem.”

“Aleichem shalom,” Chaudry responded.

Apsel composed himself as much as possible when he said that everybody has so much in common, and the evil in society must not be allowed to keep everybody apart. Leonard helped solidify this notion by leading the church in a sing-along of “This Little Light of Mine” before the names of each and every victim of Charleston and Orlando were read and honored with lit candles.

Before the service ended and people took time to commiserate with each other, Mount Sinai pastor Ron Wood drove home the importance of acceptance.

“Places where you gather with others like you, essentially, are sanctuaries,” he said. “Where you can be who you are without judgment. Pulse was a sanctuary. AME Church was a sanctuary. A sanctuary isn’t a place to escape. It’s a place to be strengthened and nurtured.”

As everybody filed out of the church, they were holding each other, laughing and smiling, and appearing even more unified than they were upon entering only an hour or so prior. In the wake of a tragedy that should destroy all hope and joy, the Mount Sinai Congregational Church was certainly a place to be strengthened and nurtured.