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Five victims of Riverhead house fire remembered at funeral service before bodies transported to Guatemala

The greatness of life is not limited by death, Bishop Luis Miguel Romero, the vicar of Hispanic ministry for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said to community members at the funeral service for the Rivera family Saturday morning.

“Death is the border of two worlds that embrace one another,” Bishop Romero said in Spanish at the service at St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church in Riverhead. “There’s an embrace from us that goes up to heaven … but there’s also an embrace from heaven, here, from them embracing us all.”

Five white and gold caskets sat near family and community members that attended to say their final goodbyes to the Rivera family, who died in a house fire on East Second Street last month.

Zonia Dinora Rivera Mendoza’s casket was in the center of the church, while to the left were the caskets of her children, Carlos Cifredo Penate Rivera, 24, and Andrea Isamar Gonzalez Rivera, 16. The caskets of her nephews, Carlos Alberto Ramos Aguirre, 25, and Duglas Edgardo Rivera Aguirre, 27, were to the right. Ms. Rivera Mendoza was 42.

The funeral mass started promptly at 9:30 a.m. The ceremony, presided over by Bishop Romero, was joined by Father Larry Duncklee, pastor of St. John’s parish, and Father John Sevini.

Bishop Romero represented Rockville Centre Bishop John Barres, who sent his regrets for not being able to attend.

“He is truly in prayer with you all in these moments,” Bishop Romero said in Spanish.

The ceremony followed a wake that had been held Friday evening at Tuthill-Mangano Funeral Home on East Main Street. 

A poster board at the entrance to the church lists each of the five victims. (Credit: Melissa Azofeifa)

The Nov. 16 fire destroyed a century-old, three-story, multi-family residence. Although five other residents on the lower floors of the home managed to escape, the Riveras, on the third floor, did not. Police have yet to reveal a cause for the fire, but confirmed it was not of criminal nature after a preliminary investigation. Detectives are exploring multiple causes, including smoking, police said.

The family members were all natives of Guatemala, which will be their final resting place. The community started fundraising for the family and raised over $73,000, which made it possible to send their remains back to Guatemala. Funeral services in Guatemala are scheduled for Tuesday.

Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead was thanked by Father Duncklee for being instrumental in helping the family with planning the services.

“Sister Margaret did so much work in expediting the stuff with the consulate and anything else that needed to be done,” he said.

Father Duncklee addressed, in Spanish, the family of the deceased on how difficult the day was for the family.

“This day is very difficult for you,” he said. “In this moment, in your heart and in your mind, say, ‘let’s go with God and ask God to embrace the five of them today,’ ” he said.