NEW YORK – For two months, Monsignor Martin Geraghty presided over funeral after funeral for the firefighters and bond traders who lived in the Rockaways and died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
When an American Airlines jet crashed Monday near Geraghty's reeling parish — as he was saying Mass at St. Francis de Sales Church — he found himself blessing bodies lined up on the neighborhood streets and counseling traumatized rescue workers.
"We'll get through this together," he said.
All 260 people aboard Flight 587 were killed after the jet crashed while taking off from nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport. At least six other people were reported missing on the ground. Six houses were destroyed and six others sustained serious damage.
The tightly knit Queens neighborhood, on a sandy peninsula that separates Jamaica Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, is home to many police and firefighter families clustered in modest, middle-class homes. Some of those firefighters died in the Sept. 11 trade center attacks. And many of the neighborhood's young men worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond firm that lost nearly 700 of its 1,000 employees on Sept. 11.
In all, the area lost about 70 people in the terrorist attack, said Kevin Ryan, a spokesman for Rep. Anthony Weiner. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said he had been to about 10 funerals at St. Francis since Sept. 11.
"The idea that Rockaway was the victim of this — I mean, anyplace it happened, obviously, is awful — but it had a special significance to it," the mayor said.
Rockaway residents responded quickly Monday to the new horror: Off-duty firefighters ran from their homes to the wreckage. Neighbors pulled out garden hoses to douse the flames. Grade schools turned into triage centers.
And Bill Egan, a caterer, set up his propane stoves at home and started cooking soup and Chinese chicken for workers, victims — whoever needed help.
Some of the food went to the Lawlor family, whose home was hit by the wreckage and who had relatives among the missing.
"It's terrible," Egan said. "At their house, there's just bodies all over the lawn."
Some residents thought at first that the neighborhood was under attack — "I thought we were being bombed," said Janet Barasso — and many couldn't help thinking back to Sept. 11.
"Just on the heels of one horror, another," said Fern Liberman.
Milena Owens was putting up Thanksgiving decorations two blocks away. "I just thought, 'Oh, no, not again,"' she said.
Dolores Ravanno said she saw construction workers screaming as they ran down the street to help. Other people hugged in the street.
"The black smoke just rushed down the block and all over," said Eileen Dolan, who was walking her dog when the jet hit.
Some of the neighborhood's young widows said they immediately thought of the husbands they lost in the trade center attack.
"My husband would be thinking about the victims, about what he could do to help, about what this would do to the community," said Veronica Hynes. Her husband, Fire Capt. Walter Hynes, helped save others at the trade center before losing his own life there.
Kim Moran's husband, John, was a battalion chief who died Sept. 11. Her brother-in-law, Michael Moran, challenged Usama bin Laden to "kiss my royal Irish ass" during a nationally televised benefit concert last month.
"I thought of my husband and I thought of his brother," she said Monday. "I would hate for this to mean there will be more heartbreak here. ... This is a beautiful, tight-knit neighborhood and it's just devastating."
The neighborhood has held many fund-raisers, clothing drives and food drives for families of the Sept. 11 victims, said Gary Toms, associate editor of the community weekly The Wave.
"We were still trying to bury a number of our heroes," he said. "This is going to compound the devastation a lot of people have to deal with."
Hours after the crash, Gail Allen stood outside her home in a Fire Department jacket, holding a picture of her firefighter son, Richard, whose memorial service was held Friday.
Asked how she was coping, she said, "A lot of prayers."
"What can you do?" asked Kathleen Boyle, who has lived in the neighborhood for 27 years. "You have to trust in God."