EAST HAVEN – The pastors of the three Catholic parishes here were among local clergy who conducted a prayer vigil Aug. 10 to honor four people who died when a plane crashed in a neighborhood near Tweed-New Haven Airport the previous day.
East Haven police chaplains Father Thomas A. Sievel, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish; and Father John L. Lavorgna, pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii Parish; were among those first on the scene to minister to families when a plane carrying a father and his teenage son crashed into two homes, killing the plane’s occupants and two children in one of the homes. Father Gerard G. Masters, pastor of St. Clare Parish, joined the other two priests on Aug. 10 at a prayer vigil at Margaret Tucker Park.
“We’re gathering to pray and to be present to each other,” said Father Sievel, who spoke earlier in the evening to his parishioners at the Sunday vigil Mass.
“Our town lost four people” in the crash, he said. “All of us are affected … as we ask, ‘Why?’”
Just prior to the vigil, police released the names of the four who perished in the accident.
Pilot Bill Henningsgaard, a former Microsoft executive from Medina, Wash., was killed along with his 17-year-old son, Maxwell, as they were attempting to land at the airport to visit colleges on the East Coast. The bodies of two children, 13-year-old Sade Brantley and 1-year-old, Madisyn Mitchell, were recovered from the wreckage of a home hit by the plane. Their mother escaped the house. The owner of the second home hit by the twin-engine plane was at work when the crash occurred.
Hundreds of people attended the vigil, including faith leaders, town officials and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal. The children's mother, Joann Mitchell, 39, was also in attendance, but did not speak as she wept in the arms of family members.
“I like would like to say to Joann, as a parent of four children, my heart goes out to you. And anything that I or we can ever do, we are certainly there for you," said Senator Blumenthal.
On her Facebook page, the children’s mother wrote, "My heart is at a standstill. The feeling of emptiness engulfs me. Mommy will always love you … R.I.P. my sweet angels.”
This was yet another prayer vigil held in a town that has suffered a number of tragedies in recent years, including Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which devastated homes and buildings along the shore.
In response, Fathers Sievel and Lavorgna, along with other clergy, banded together to form East Haven United (EHU) – a joint collaboration of the East Haven faith community to reach out to the community and those in need. EHU coordinated the prayer vigil.
It also has set up a fund for the victims of the plane crash tragedy. Checks may be made out to EHU and sent to St. Vincent DePaul Church, 80 Taylor Ave., East Haven CT 06512.
“We need to be present to each other … to reach out to those in need … and to go out of our own comfort zones and be present to others,” said Father Sievel.