Dozens of Bellport High School seniors meandered into Our Lady of Mount Carmel church Friday morning wearing graduation caps and gowns, their heads tilted down, to join other friends and family members mourning the untimely death of slain East Patchogue teenager Jennifer Mejia.
The 17-year-old was the youngest victim of a massacre on Father’s Day at Haven Pharmacy in Medford that claimed the lives of four. Also murdered were Raymond Ferguson, 45, of Centereach; Bryon Sheffield, 71; and Jamie Taccetta, 33. On Wednesday, Suffolk County Police arrested 33-year-old David Laffer and wife Melinda Brady, 29, for the slayings. Laffer was arraigned Thursday on first-degree murder charges and is being held without bail. Brady is charged with robbery and obstructing governmental administration, with more expected.
Mejia would have graduated Thursday alongside her classmates. Her father asked them to wear the graduation attire in honor of his daughter. Girls wore bright red; boys were dressed in blue.
“She was just an angel,” Christopher Soriano, one of Mejia’s best friends, told the Press shortly before joining the sea of color following her casket into the funeral mass. Soriano wore a purple ribbon pinned above his heart, Mejia’s favorite color. “She was seriously just a walking angel.”
“It had to be the hardest week of my life,” said another one of Mejia’s best friends, Kimberly Jimenez. Her graduation cap read “Angel On Earth. Jennifer Mejia. June 19, 2011.”
“We were waiting for someone to be like, ‘We were just kidding,’” she said, of when she found out about her death.
“An angel” is also how Taylor Riley, another friend, described Mejia.
“She should have been there with us,” said Riley, like others, wearing a purple-beaded bracelet in remembrance. “[Jennifer was] one of the nicest, most caring, amazing people I’ve met in my entire life. She really was an angel.”
Inside the church, classmates could be seen hugging and comforting each other as services began. Mejia’s graduation cap and gown were draped atop her casket, one mourner tells the Press; her classmates encircled her and gave goodbyes. As the procession made its way back outside, friends and family members held onto one another, many crying, using tissues to wipe away tears. Dispersing as somberly as they arrived, the sea of blue, red and black poured into the parking lot and disappeared into vehicles headed toward a nearby cemetery.
“They’re just teenagers,” said a woman who attended the ceremony but didn’t personally know the family, just there to give support. “They should be looking forward to the next stage in life. And here they are, burying their own classmate.”
“It’s a tragic thing,” she added. “A black cloud is over the town.”