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Flushing Bravest mourned as victim of terror attacks

Veteran Firefighter and Flushing resident Gary Celentani, described as the “first casualty of Sept. 11 who did not die that day,” was mourned by hundreds of friends and relatives Saturday in Whitestone’s Holy Trinity Church.

He was remember for his heart, hugs and generosity.

Last week Celentani, 33, who served with Maspeth’s special operations unit Squad 288, killed himself with a gunshot wound to the chest in his Flushing apartment, police said. According to published reports, Celentani committed suicide in front of a shrine he built to friends and colleagues killed in the terror attacks.

“His heart overflowed with compassion and kindness,” Celentani’s sister, Christine, tearfully told the full church.

As Christine Celentani spoke of the death of her mother Mary about six weeks ago, she said: “I know there were so many things he never told us about.”

Retired fire chief Dan Nigro, who also eulogized Celentani, described him as a friend.

“Gary may be our first casualty of Sept. 11 that did not die that day,” Nigro said. “Gary was my friend. He was like so many firefighters — a man of great strength, he was also a man of great heart.”

A fire truck for Squad 288 which took part in Celentani’s funeral procession embodied the unit’s grim losses in the World Trade Center collapse, with the names of 19 firefighters emblazoned on the side of the vehicle under the words “Our fallen comrades.”

Celentani, who had been mourning his colleagues lost in the World Trade Center collapse, suffered more with the recent death of his mother and, according to published reports, a breakup with his girlfriend. He had also helped his sister Linda recover from cancer, said Christine Celentani, another sister.

Christine Celentani also remembered her brother as a practical joker from the time he used a green marker to paint the ears and feet of the family white German shepherd.

Lt. John Hopkins, a firefighter who worked with Celentani at Engine Company 233, Ladder 176 in Brooklyn, said Celentani joined Squad 288 after many of the firefighters in the unit were killed Sept. 11.

“He had a will and a passion for this job,” an emotional Hopkins said. “We will miss his big smile, his hugs.

“There’s a saying, you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it anymore,” Hopkins said. “That’s not true. We always knew what he was.”

Rev. Marcello Latona urged the firefighters at the funeral to speak out about their emotional difficulties since 343 of their colleagues were killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The priest, who described Celentani as “a big guy, a loving guy,” told the crowd they were there “to ask an awful lot of questions not about Gary but about ourselves.

“All my understanding can’t help you, you have to help yourselves,” Latona said. “You’re beautiful people, but beautiful people have to learn to love themselves. The most courageous thing is not to keep quiet, the most courageous thing is to open up and admit what you are going through.”

Celentani is survived by his siblings, Christine, Ralph, Eugene, Linda and Teresa, as well as several nieces and nephews.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext 157.

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