Editorial: In the wake of a terrible tragedy, some light still shines

Within hours of a fire that claimed the lives of five family members, people were calling Sister Margaret Smyth’s office in Riverhead asking how they could help.

The Tuesday night fire roared through a once majestic home on East Second Street in Riverhead, with all five victims found on the third floor of the 7,000-square-foot house.

“Members of the family came to see me today asking for our help,” Sister Margaret said Thursday. She is executive director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, which assists members of the East End’s Spanish-speaking community.

“The family was in here this morning and they are in a state of shock,” she said. “They are coming back tomorrow to go over the arrangements. The youngest was just 16.”

The five dead included a 42-year-old woman, her adult son and teenage daughter, and two adult nephews. Sister Margaret said the mother’s brother came up from Miami to help with funeral arrangements.

What brought a measure of hope to Sister Margaret and the family members of the deceased was how the community offered assistance almost immediately after the fire. As the family works with the Guatemalan consulate, which has an office in Riverhead, to complete necessary paperwork, scores of people have called the Spanish Apostolate to offer financial help.

“Right now we are waiting for all the bodies to be identified,” Sister Margaret said. 

While funeral arrangements are being made, “people are calling every day to ask how they can help,” Sister Margaret said. “People are coming by and dropping off money. A woman was just in and dropped off $100. I’m so very grateful people have come forward to help.”

Nearly every time tragedy strikes our communities, we are reminded  how generous people are in reaching out to helpthose affected.  Sister Margaret said she believes funeral costs for those who died will be waived; meanwhile GoFundMe pages have been set up to help the family.

We similar generosity last week when a fire destroyed a family’s home in Greenport. Within days a GoFundMe page had raised more than $20,000, and people were dropping off clothing and other goods at a bin at the Greenport IGA, where the owner of the house works.

Similar fundraising was done last week on behalf of a Flanders man who was killed in an excavation accident.

The goodness of people in our communities is one of the best aspects of where we live. We applaud those who go out of their way to help others deal with tragedies.