PARKCHESTER — Hundreds of mourners — including swarms of sobbing children — gathered inside a Parkchester church Friday to bid a heart-wrenching farewell to seven members of a family who died in a tragic crash off the Bronx River Parkway.
Nearly 700 people filed into the Church of St. Raymond to mourn grandparents Jacob Nunez, 85, and Ana Julia Martinez, 81, who died alongside their daughters, Maria Nunez, 39, and Maria Gonzalez, 45, and their three grandchildren — Marlyn, 3, Niely, 7, and Jaslyn, 9 — on Sunday when their car plunged 60 feet off the parkway and into a remote part of the Bronx Zoo.
Mikaela Alberty, 9, said she was a close friend of Jaslyn.
"She's my best friend," Alberty said. "I feel a hole in my heart."
Inside the church, the victims' family members were visibly shaken as they looked on at the seven white caskets standing in front of the altar.
During the sign of peace portion of Mass, dozens lined up to console the family, including Juan Gonzalez and Juan Ramon Rosario, husbands of two of the women killed in the crash.
At one point, Rosario became so distraught that two men had to take hold of his arms to keep him from collapsing.
When Mass ended, family members gathered around the coffins, crying and kissing each casket.
Susana Duarte, 57, who said she lives near the family, said that seeing the smallest coffin for 3-year-old Marlyn left her overcome with grief.
“It’s just so sad,” Duarte said. “If I’m just a neighbor and am destroyed like this, I can't imagine how the family is today."
“I wouldn't wish this in my worst enemy,” she added.
When the accident occurred, the family members were on their way to Gonzalez’s home on Taylor Avenue to celebrate the arrival of the grandparents, Jacob Nunez and Maria Martinez, who were in town from the Dominican Republic to spend a month visiting their family.
In the days following the crash, the state Department of Transportation began adding concrete barriers to the stretch of the Bronx River Parkway where the family’s car shot off the road. The department also reduced speed limits in the area from 40 mph to 35 mph.
Tuan Nguyen contributed to this article.