Feb. 10, 2006 – In an outpouring of community love, a group of St. Thomians honored a small child from another Caribbean island Friday morning with a funeral mass and burial.
The mass for the child was held at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral. An honor guard from St. Thomas Rescue carried a tiny white coffin up the church steps.
The body of Eunice Charles, 18 months, was found wrapped in a blanket on the front lawn of a Smith Bay church in the early morning hours of Jan. 25.
The child was carefully dressed, with gold hoop earrings and a dozen pink barrettes in her carefully plaited hair. Maria Ferreras, a downtown businesswoman, said, "When I read the description of the child in the paper, as a mother, I knew I had to do something."
Subsequently, it was discovered that the child was a victim of drowning during the landing of several Haitian immigrants. The child's mother, Nadine Charles, turned herself into police two days after the illegal landing. She was taken to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement center in Puerto Rico.
Ferreras said in a Thursday interview, "It was a flotilla from Hell, from what I have learned. The mother placed her child where she was meant to be found. She wanted another mother to take care of her baby," said Ferreras. "So I started down that path. I left my name with the medical examiner, and I requested receipt of the child."
Then, Ferreras found she was not alone. "I had talked to Davis Funeral Home, and I found someone else was making inquiries, and we got together," she said. "Efrain Feliciano was heartbroken, too. He is my hero."
Feliciano and Ferreras worked together to arrange a proper funeral for the child. "The community came together to make a positively horrifying incident somehow right," said Ferreras. "You read about people coming here to seek a better life, but the horror of the situation is a tragedy."
Ferreras said the immigrants had taken a dinghy from a larger boat, when someone jumped in and overturned the dinghy. She said the mother reached a child in the water and brought it to shore only to discover it was not hers. Her child had drowned.
Neither Feliciano, also a downtown business person, nor Ferreras take any credit for their efforts.
"People opened their hearts to help," Ferreras said. "I just cannot tell you enough. When I went to Ease Fashions to get a dress and told the saleswoman who it was for, she said, 'This is for God; you take this.' I got a white dress with beautiful roses and crystals and bows."
"Alicia Fellner, who has Alicia's Beauty Parlor near where I work, came to me within 15 minutes with a selection of satin headbands. Davis Funeral Home donated the casket and Armour Enterprises contributed funds for the vault. Mr. Peters built the vault at cost."
Ferreras said, "Hans Oriol, who is a spokesperson for the Haitian community, helped us arrange to get the mother back from Puerto Rico for the funeral."
"The mother looks so young," Ferreras said. "She doesn't speak English, she turned herself in, and she is completely heartbroken."
She and Feliciano met with the distraught mother at the funeral home earlier in the week.
"We are having the service in both English and French," she said. "We want it to be as beautiful as possible, with people on different paths converging to make it right. It can't be right, because you want to go back in time and prevent this, not to read a horror story of a mother seeking a better life."
Feliciano is a 24-year member of St. Thomas Rescue. He said Thursday evening at the viewing at the funeral home, "I have seen a lot of horror in 24 years, but I cannot imagine hers."
He and Ferreras said they are both hopeful that "with such a tragic loss, the mother might be granted amnesty by Immigration officials."
The service was conducted by Monsignor Jerome Feudjio, pastor of the Holy Family Church, who is fluent in French.
St. Thomas Rescue members served as honor guards. They carried the tiny white coffin up the steps and into the cathedral Friday morning. And they accompanied the casket to the burial at Western Cemetery.
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