BEALS, Maine — More than 400 people came to Beals Island Tuesday afternoon to mourn the loss of a young family of three killed in a horrific car crash in Dedham a week ago.
Carlos A. Tapia, 34, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard stationed at Jonesport, his wife, Rachelle Parker-Tapia, 23, and Rachelle’s 4-year-old daughter, Mackenzie Gray, all of Jonesport, were pronounced dead at the scene after their vehicle and a pickup truck collided head-on last Tuesday afternoon on U.S. Route 1A.
Mackenzie Gray was the daughter of William Gray of Addison.
The mourners Tuesday included more than 60 Coast Guard members and representatives from the U.S. Navy, Border Patrol and Homeland Security, all of whom stood for the entire two-hour memorial service.
The Beals Elementary School gymnasium was filled to capacity and many attendees filed past the three open caskets, placed in a row alongside the stage.
Rachelle, whom friends and relatives said loved to travel, had a lei draped on her casket lid. Carlos was dressed in his Coast Guard uniform. A large blue anchor of flowers decorated with a spray of red roses stood nearby.
Between them, Mackenzie’s casket was filled with stuffed animals. She was wearing a shiny tiara and a floral wreath encircled her pink and white ATV helmet.
A Spanish interpreter from the Coast Guard assisted members of Tapia’s family, many of them from Peru, during the service.
The service was Christian in nature with four clergymen from area churches presiding.
“Today our hearts are troubled with such a significant loss at such young ages,” Pastor George Woodward of the Beals Wesleyan Church told mourners. He said friends and relatives could take solace in that “we can look forward to seeing them again in our heavenly father’s home.”
People who knew the individual victims best described who they were.
Beth Clark, director of nursing at Husson University, where Rachelle was in her senior year, said Rachelle was an engaged dean’s list student who will be remembered at the graduating class’ pinning ceremony next spring.
Fellow nursing student Ashley Shepherd said many of the nursing students looked up to Rachelle, and had never seen her happier than this year after she married Carlos in June.
“All of us who knew her will carry her in our hearts for the rest of our careers,” Shepherd said. “She inspired us to be better nurses.”
Pastor Woodward, who also was Rachelle’s cousin, said she loved to travel, had a contagious smile and was “the full package.”
Carlos was described by Pastor Jessie Merchant, the former pastor of the Beals Wesleyan Church, as a good man.
“He and his family were just getting started,” Merchant said.
Carlos’s brother, Miguel Tapia of New Jersey, described his brother as “sweet, friendly, respectful and helpful.” He said Carlos would always say, “You gotta smile.”
He said Carlos was so happy to have married Rachelle earlier this summer and thought of Mackenzie as his own daughter.
Miguel Tapia said their father was so proud of Carlos’ service in the Coast Guard that he carried a photograph of his son in uniform in his pocket and often showed it off. Many of the Coast Guard men and women were visibly in tears at that point.
Then Valerie Worcester’s remembrances of young Mackenzie drew sobs from many others attending.
Worcester said Mackenzie, who attended her day care center over the past two years, loved Play-Doh and macaroni and cheese, took her naps in a recliner with a blue fleece blanket, and enjoyed playing in the sand pile, swimming and sledding. She ate her breakfast cereal in a bowl and drank her milk in a cup and never mixed them together.
Worcester said Mackenzie was “loveable, forceful and never sat still. She was often called ‘Fingers McGee’ or Octopus because she was always grabbing stuff.” Worcester said Mackenzie called her grandfather “Knucklehead” and loved homemade pickles.
“Put your thumbs up,” Worcester told the audience at one point. “Don’t ever forget that Mackenzie was thumb-body special to so many people.”
Following the memorial service at the gym, the caskets were transported to Great Wass Cemetery at Beals for burial.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Rachelle Parker-Tapia Scholarship Fund, c/o Union Trust, P.O. Box 310, Jonesport, ME 04649.