A fiercely loyal mother who tried in vain to save herself and her three young children was just no match for the fast-moving fire that destroyed their Long Island home a week ago, a pastor recalled at a funeral Mass Friday that left a community in tears.
"It's the saddest thing I have ever seen," said family friend Georgia Graziano, who was among the more than 100 people who attended the emotional ceremony at the St. Jude Roman Catholic Church in Mastic Beach.
Three white caskets carrying the remains of Jennifer McCusker, 41, her son Aidan Tarbell, 7, and 2-year-old twins Brendan and Ava Jane Mistretta, who shared a coffin filled with Teddy bears, were arranged across the church altar. The family was later buried at a Long Island cemetery. Aidan was buried with his Yankee cap.
"Jennifer had great love and devotion for her children," said the Rev. Gregory Yacyshyn, the church pastor. He compared McCusker to the Virgin Mary, who refused to leave Jesus when he was being crucified.
McCusker was found holding one of the twins in a bedroom, police said. She apparently had tried to grab the children and carry them from the house. The other twin lay in a crib nearby. The 7-year-old died in his bed, police said.
"If Jennifer had been able to get out of the house to save herself, she did not," Yacyshyn said. "She stayed with her children, to save her children from the fire that was their danger."
The Oct. 11 fire broke out at the home where McCusker was raised in Shirley, about 60 miles east of New York City. Some neighbors said they tried to fight the flames, but couldn't withstand the heat.
Suffolk County police have yet to determine a cause of the fire, but said it was "not criminal." Authorities said it appeared to have started in the living room of the single-story home.