The long-awaited dream of a memorial park on Sound Avenue to honor those lost on 9/11 -- as well as first responders who have died tragically in the line of duty -- is set to become a reality.
Eric Biegler, president of Sound Park Heights Civic Association, spoke at Riverhead's town board meeting and announced that Suffolk County had closed on the property on Tuesday.
For Bob Kelly, brother of Reeves Park resident Thomas Kelly, 38, a New York City firefighter and one of seven members of Engine 219, Ladder 105 who died on September 11 after the terrorist attacks, the news was meaningful.
The county acquistion of the 4.1 acre parcel, located at the corner of Sound Avenue and Thomas Kelly Memorial Drive/Park Road, has been a long-sought-after goal.
"There's a true sense of peace," Kelly said. "Knowing that after ten years, the right thing has been done."
In addition, Kelly has expressed interest in dedicating a piece of the parcel to local first responders who have been killed in the line of duty -- who lost her life in a tragic ambulance accident.
"The Behr family is on the top of my wish list -- they deserve this, at least, and a whole lot more," he said.
Almost eight years after a horrific ambulance crash on Main Road in Aquebogue took the lives of emergency responder Heidi Behr, 23, and William Anthony Stone in May, 2005, her heartbroken parents June and John Behr are raising her son, Jared, who is now 9 years old, in their Cutchogue home.
When Heidi died, she left behind her little baby, who was only 15 months old, and severely disabled, with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and who is also legally blind.
The years since their daughter's death have been steeped in tragedy -- June Behr also lost both parents and her sister -- but it is Jared who has given the Behr family, including Heidi's sister, Dana, the strength to go on.
"He's a blessing," said June. "He is the glue that keeps us together."
Heidi and her partner were treating a heart attack victim at the time of the accident and were not wearing seat belts; the driver and patient, who were belted securely, survived.
"It's a wonderful feeling to have her remembered," June Behr said on Wednesday, of the memorial park, adding that the park should also have a place where Heidi's partner, Bill Stone, can be remembered. "They were together," she said.
Behr said Jared "keeps us strong."
Rocked by tragedy, the Riverhead community came together, with members of Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corp, Inc., the Riverhead Volunteer Fire Department, where John served for 21 years, and scores of community members organizing countless fundraisers to help the Behr family.
The Riverhead Town board has also expressed interest in naming the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corp barn after Behr.
Kelly said with plans set to move forward, "we will now have a peaceful place for reflection, meditation, and prayer -- a place to walk and be in your thoughts, to reach into your feelings."
Despite how "well done" the 9/11 memorial in New York City might be, Kelly said he finds that it is "quite difficult to be there and be in touch with yourself and loved ones. With a little work this will be that peaceful place we can call our home."
The park will bring a measure of solace for those left behind, Kelly said.
"I feel that my brother Tom and all my friends that were killed that horrible day, as well as the far-too-many folks who are becoming ill and passing after the rescue and recovery work, will have a fitting place," he said. "Family, friends, the people of Suffolk can come to a beautiful place to pay respects, or to be in the moment with their memories."
The vision for the park includes a garden, with memorial benches, butterflies, and stones to mark the event and lives lost.
Of the parcel's acquisition by the county, Kelly said, "The biggest step has been taken. The next process will be a labor of love with the best wishes of the families and people of Suffolk in mind. To all those people who worked so hard to make this land become a reality, on behalf of my family and all those who have suffered from the events of 9/11, thanks for doing the right thing."