A tearful final goodbye
Dennis Burgos held on to his children as long as he could.
He stood before the altar at Mission Church in Roxbury yesterday throughout the 90-minute funeral Mass for his 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, one hand on each of their matching white caskets.
He held the caskets until they were loaded into separate hearses.
He wiped his tears off each casket with a blue cloth at St. Michael's Cemetery in Roslindale. And he did not let go until they were lowered into the grave and out of his reach.
Burgos's daughter, Yasmine, and son, Dennis Jr., were found dead in their Roslindale home July 29. Police said the children's mother, Angela Vasquez, apparently poisoned them with a bluish powder.
Vasquez, 31, has battled depression throughout her life. Police said she had tried to stab herself to death after allegedly killing the children.
She was charged last week with two counts of murder and is undergoing a court-ordered 20-day psychiatric evaluation at a Boston mental health facility.
Yesterday, friends, relatives, classmates, and teachers of the siblings gathered at Mission Church for the funeral. They celebrated the children's lives and tried to understand their deaths.
"I hope I never have to live through another experience like this," said Maria Sanchez, a Mission Hill resident and family friend. "I know the family is suffering, but today we are all together as family."
That suffering was evident on the face of Burgos, who wore a black suit over a white T-shirt bearing a picture of his children, flashing the wide smiles friends and relatives said were their trademark. He slumped to the ground sobbing when the first casket began its descent into the earth, as friends rushed to his side to help him stand.
"These are painful and difficult times," the Rev. Richard S. Bennett said during a homily that included touching anecdotes about the children. "We have many questions, perhaps more questions than we have answers."
"Yasmine and Dennis loved to tease each other, to pick on each other as all brothers and sisters do," Bennett said. "But at the end of the day, it was always love that brought them together, laughing, smiling, sometimes bickering, but always together in love."
Madeline Garcia, Burgos's sister, remembered her niece and nephew as "extraordinary kids."
"They would always laugh," Garcia said in a speech at the end of the Mass. "There's not a single picture of one without the other."
A poster-sized photo of the children, each smiling and wrapping an arm around the other's shoulders, was displayed on the steps to the altar and next to the grave, where mourners threw flowers and teddy bears on top of the caskets.
Many wore the same T-shirt as Burgos, while others donned buttons showing Yasmine and Dennis's faces.
Although Vasquez's name came up during the funeral service, some mourners said they hoped the children's death would alert the community to the challenges facing single mothers.
"I hope people pay more attention to their kids and to single mothers," Sanchez said. "People need to pay attention to their needs to make sure they don't get depressed, so something like this never happens again. We have to learn how to read between the lines -- sometimes happiness is not just a smile on a face."
Burgos and Vasquez, who were not married, had lived together for a time but were not together at the time of the deaths, friends said last week.
Burgos and Vasquez had gotten along well recently, and Burgos usually had the children on weekends, friends said.
Burgos, too, is hoping others can learn from his children's death.
"The only message he wants to get out is that people should use this as an example," said state Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, a friend of Burgos's who stayed at his side throughout the day. "Your children are a gift, and you should treat them as such. If you come home from work and you're stressed out or you're hurting, remember, it's not your children's fault."
Ryan Haggerty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.