Hundreds of people attended funeral services this weekend for the five family members who perished in a horrific house fire on on East Second Street in Riverhead last month.
Zonia Dinora Rivera Mendoza, 41, her son Carlos Cifredo Peñate Rivera, 24, her daughter Andrea Isamar Gonzalez Rivera, 16, her nephew Douglas Edgardo Rivera Aguirre, 24, and his stepbrother, Carlos Alberto Ramos Aguirre, 22, all died the night of Nov. 16 as they tried to escape a blaze that engulfed the century-old home where they rented a third-floor apartment.
The Riveras were waked at Tuthill-Mangano Funeral Home on Friday evening, where about 180 people came to pay their respects throughout the four-hour visitation period, packing the room to capacity. A line of mourners spilled out of the visitation room, and down the hall.
During the wake, dozens were crying, praying, and some even embraced the closed caskets, which were adorned with flowers and framed pictures of each person. Zonia’s sister and brother, Laura and Leonel Rivera, and other family members, who were seated at the front of the room, wore matching t-shirts with the pictures and names of the victims.
The Riveras were beloved members of the community, having participated locally in various events and made many friends in Riverhead, said Ana Archaga, a close friend of Zonia who attended the wake with her daughter Megan.
“She was the best of friends, a good woman, honest, hard-working, loyal, loving,” Archaga said of Zonia, her voice breaking. “It is so very unfair they are not here anymore, God is the only one who knows why this happened, but to me it was very important to say goodbye today, to be here, until we meet again.”
Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate said that the month-long wait the family had to endure before the bodies were identified and released from the county morgue had been especially hard, a process that delayed the funeral services.
“They have suffered so much waiting for this moment, waiting and waiting to say their final goodbye, and when that moment comes, it’s like an explosion of grief, because they have to face the reality of what happened,” Smyth said.
“My hope is that they will find the solace of God during this time to start the recovery process after this tragedy, and that the memories and experiences with their loved ones will guide them to rebuild their lives.”
Colonel Luis Gerardo Caraballo of the International Alliance of Chaplains and Law Enforcement, prayed at the wake.
The visitation was followed by a night-long vigil at a nearby residence in Riverhead, a tradition of many countries in Latin America.
“We can’t go to sleep comfortably. We will be accompanying them all night,” said Laura Rivera.
‘The final goodbye’
On Saturday morning, mourners attended a funeral Mass for the Rivera family at St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Riverhead. Bishop Luis Miguel Romero, Vicar of the Hispanic Ministry of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, St. John’s pastor Father Larry Dunklee and Father John Sevini celebrated the Mass.
During the hour-long Spanish-language service, Bishop Romero remembered the lives of the five members of the Rivera family, whose caskets were positioned at the front of the church. He also prayed for their souls and read different verses from the Bible to offer solace to the surviving family members.
Once the service ended, loved ones sobbed as the five white caskets were carried out of the church amid a light rain that lasted the entire morning.
Funeral cars then stopped at 46 East Second Street, leaving the flowers from the wake at the improvised altar that was erected outside the charred remains of the house, in a moving gesture that symbolized the final time the five family members of the Rivera family would be in Riverhead — and in the United States. Their bodies were scheduled to be transported to their native Guatemala by Sunday, where there will be another wake Monday for family members there.
The bodies of Zonia, Andrea Isamar, Carlos Cifredo, Duglas Edgardo and Carlos Alberto will be laid to rest on Tuesday, according to Laura Rivera.
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Maria del Mar Piedrabuena
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