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Families remember Flight 587 victims

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American Airlines Flight 587 went down in Belle Harbor shortly after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport nine years ago last week, tearing apart the lives of the 260 passengers and crew on board, many of whom had roots in the tropical paradise of the Dominican Republic, where the plane was headed that chilly morning.

Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters — everyone who was on that fated trip died in a fiery conflagration´╗┐ that also killed five residents in their homes on the ground on the last stretch of land before open sea. As a tribute to their memories, the victims’ families continue to meet every year in Rockaway Park, blocks from the crash site, to remember the people they miss so deeply.

The ninth-anniversary memorial Friday was timed to coincide with the actual time of the crash, 9:16 a.m., a moment that altered the course of Crystal Flores’ life forever.

The 23-year-old Yonkers, N.Y., resident, who lived in Ozone Park when the crash occurred, lost her father, stepmother and 2-year-old brother that day and she attended the service Friday with other family members including her infant son, who would have been her father Lasar “Johnny” Flores’ grandson. She said she has a somewhat easier time dealing with her grief and emotions with each year that passes, but that she still yearns for what was lost that fated dawn.

“It’s gotten a little easier, but you still always mourn them,” she said after placing roses in a slot in the memorial to Flight 587, built four years ago by the sea in Rockaway Park. “When you’re older, you’re more wise, so you can get to know someone better. It’s sad I can’t have that relationship with my dad. But it’s important to pay your respects and also to let them know we’ll never forget.”

The event began with a moving invocation by Monsignor John Brown of St. Francis de Sales Parish nearby, followed by a long set of remarks by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who attends the memorial every year in solidarity with victims’ family members.

“In the beginning you shared only grief and sorrow, but as the years have passed, friendships have grown, connections have been forged and your love for one another has strengthen­ed,” Bloomberg told the crowd of mourners. “Although you miss your loved ones terribly, I hope it provides some comfort to think that they have, in a sense, returned home to a place of eternal peace.”

His speech was followed by a reading of the names of all 265 victims of the crash by the Rev. Magalys Beltre of the Broadway Temple Methodist Church in Manhattan.

The litany brought tears to many attendees, as it does each year, reminding the community of all that it lost in the fall of 2001.

Maria DeJesus of Harlem attended the event with her 8-year-old daughter Angeline, with whom DeJesus was a month pregnant when Angeline’s father, Angel Celestino, was killed on Flight 587.

“It’s better to love even if you lose what you love so much, and having my daughter with me — I was four weeks pregnant — and now she’s singing, swimming, dancing, it’s amazing to have her with me,” DeJesus said. “It’s nine years but from here it looks like yesterday.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 6:27 pm, October 10, 2011
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