Wearing their loss on T-shirts, scarves and buttons, families clutching red roses and photographs gathered on a foggy beachfront to look up the names of 265 loved ones killed when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed five years ago.
"It's something that we can come to and pray," said Ana Lora, who placed a model car near the name of her brother, Jose Francisco Lora, who collected cars. "This is something that, really, we need."
The memorial marks years of effort to create a tangible remembrance of the crash, which killed all 260 people on board and another five in the quiet Queens neighborhood where the jet fell. The National Transportation Safety Board eventually determined that the tail of the Airbus A300 had fallen off, and the agency blamed pilot error, inadequate pilot training and overly sensitive rudder controls.
The disaster jarred a city still raw and fearful after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center two months before. The loss was also felt heavily in the Dominican Republic, where Flight 587 was bound from John F. Kennedy International Airport. Many passengers were of Dominican heritage.
Designed by a Dominican artist, the $9.2 million memorial is a curved wall inscribed with the names of the dead. Cutouts, where weeping relatives placed roses, wreaths and photographs, provide a view of the sea.
"Your ideas and your memories have been woven into it," Mayor Michael Bloomberg told those gathered Sunday.
But the memorial also was shaped by tensions over its location — a seaside park, rather than the residential street where the plane crashed — and some victims' relatives were still coming to terms with the outcome Sunday. After the city-sponsored ceremony, mourners flocked to an impromptu memorial around a tree at the crash site.
For many, too, just remembering raised conflicting feelings.
"I feel good being here, but it's very painful," said Lora. Her 43-year-old brother was on the verge of graduating from law school in the Dominican Republic when he boarded Flight 587.
Initially, she and many other victims' relatives wanted the memorial built at the scene of the crash, about 15 blocks away in the Belle Harbor neighborhood. But many residents opposed the idea, saying a memorial wouldn't fit on the residential block.
Others said they didn't want a constant reminder of the calamity, especially in a part of New York City that had lost a number of residents on Sept. 11.
The city ultimately compromised on a spot off the Ocean Promenade, surrounded by shops and a condominium complex.
Family members and friends greeted the memorial Sunday with gratitude, if it took a measure of resignation for some.
"We would like to see something done where the plane came down, but it's too late now. They built a house there," said William Fernandez. He lost a cousin, Luis Arturo Pichardo, a father of four and the owner of a furniture store in Brentwood, N.Y.
Gladys Matos, whose aunt, Iris "Magaly" Santana de Acosta, was on the flight, saw the memorial and ceremony as a fitting tribute.
"It's nice, but it's not going to get back to what we really want, which is to be with them and to talk with them," said Matos, 36, of Queens. "But it's nice that we get together. We have the same emotional feelings. We try to give support, one to another. We're like a family."