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THE NATION | THE CRASH OF FLIGHT 587

Friends, Family Gather to Remember the Dead

Crash: At an aid center and at memorial sites, stories are shared about victims. Identification process likely to go fast.

November 14, 2001|JANET WILSON and JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NEW YORK — Julia Dominguez never said goodbye to her six children when she left to see her mother in the Dominican Republic. She would just slip out at 4 a.m. This time was no different.

"On Sunday night we asked God's blessings on her and went to sleep," said her daughter Ixia Dominguez, 25, of the Bronx.

Tuesday morning, Dominguez's relatives gathered at the Jacob Javits Center, desperately seeking information about how they could retrieve her body. They want to say a proper goodbye.

Dominguez, 43, was one of 260 people aboard American Airlines Flight 587 who were killed when it crashed into a Queens neighborhood minutes after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport. At least five people on the ground also are believed to be dead.

"I want to get my mother; I want to make [funeral] arrangements," Ixia Dominguez said.

She was one of hundreds of grieving relatives who arrived at a hastily erected "family assistance center" at the mammoth convention center, clutching hairbrushes, toothbrushes and pieces of clothing--personal items that could contain DNA to provide a last link to loved ones.

It was a scene reminiscent of the wrenching days after the World Trade Center attacks Sept. 11. But this time family members should be able to bury their dead quickly. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said rescue workers had recovered 262 bodies and other remains. He said that DNA from the personal items could be used to identify remains.

Families of crew members also were in mourning Tuesday.

Stan Molin, the father of first officer Sten Molin, said his son, 34, flew with American Airlines for more than 10 years.

"He was very professional. . . . He took great pride in it," he said.

Molin said his son was extremely thoughtful and would give other people "very long listening time."

"He was a guy who would get chicken soup if someone had a cold, would give them orange juice."

Molin said many people were calling Tuesday to tell him how compassionate his son was.

John Giannasca, whose wife, Barbara, was a flight attendant on the plane, said she was the kind of person who could walk in and "light up a room."

"She was just a people person," he said, adding that she volunteered time to fight breast cancer and was involved in numerous community activities.

"She judged the costumes every year for Halloween. That was her favorite holiday," he said.

Giannasca said his sister-in-law also was a flight attendant for American and that he had met his wife through her. "It was love at first sight," he said.

At makeshift memorial sites in Dominican neighborhoods in Manhattan, the Bronx and elsewhere, relatives and friends shared stories of the victims.

Well-known members of the Dominican community were on board the flight. So were cherished matriarchs, grandfathers and infants on passengers' laps.

"She was the head of the family," said Diogenes Rodriguez, 25, of Brooklyn, fighting back tears as he recalled his mother, Dominga Matias, 43. "She was always smiling. She was so happy . . ." he said, his voice breaking.

Then he regained his composure. "I've got to stay calm because I'm the head of the family now."

Rodriguez said his mother worked 12-hour shifts at a clothing factory for 18 years to care for her six children. She saved a bit at a time to make a return trip to her birthplace, the rural village of Jaracao in the Dominican Republic. She was going to surprise her mother by appearing at her door.

Luis Munoz, a former Dominican Republic baseball player, was returning to be honored by a baseball hall of fame there, said Gusato Madera, vice president of EZ Vision Tours & Travel in Manhattan.

"They were going to retire his number. He was such a good player," said Madera, who sold Munoz his ticket.

Leaders of the Dominican community identified radio personality Papi Lafontaine, who also promoted Dominican musical acts, as being on board. They said the dead included the daughter and grandchildren of leading Dominican musician Cuco Valoy, known as "El Brujo" ("The Sorcerer") for his salsa and merengue songs.

Julia Dominguez had gotten one of the last seats on the fully booked flight, according to her boyfriend, Mateo Urena. He gave her a ride to the airport early Monday, kissed her goodbye and told her he loved her.

On the sidewalk outside the convention center Tuesday, he cried as he talked about her, clutching a tear-stained photo of Julia Dominguez and her daughter.

*

Times staff writer Paul Lieberman contributed to this report.

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