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Remains of JFK Jr., wife and sister-in-law buried at sea

Family members arrive at port in Woods Hole, Massachusetts after returning from the burial-at-sea service

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Remembering John F. Kennedy Jr.

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Requiem Mass said in N.Y. Irish Catholic church

July 22, 1999
Web posted at: 8:38 p.m. EDT (0038 GMT)

In this story:

Details of ceremony

Wreckage to go to Rhode Island

Cause of death

Sea burial was JFK Jr.'s wish

Requiem Mass said


WOODS HOLE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- The seas turned rougher Thursday after family members said private good-byes and buried the cremated remains of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and sister-in-law on the Atlantic from the deck of a Navy destroyer.

Prayers, tears and bagpipes were part of a public memorial service hours later when members of New York City's Irish community crowded Old St. Patrick's Cathedral to express their grief over the death the son of the first Irish-American president.

"With faith and hope and, certainly with love, we come together for healing, we come together for prayer, we come together to thank God for three gifts we were given, if for too short a time," Father Keith Fennessy said to the crowd of about 1,000 packing the church.

The final resting place for JFK Jr., his wife and her sister was off Martha's Vineyard, not far from where they died instantly last Friday when the aircraft piloted by Kennedy plunged into the ocean.

Catholic priests conducted the 30 minute civilian ceremony on the "fantail" of the USS Briscoe, a guided missile destroyer. There was no rifle salute or "military honors."

Following the ceremony itself, some family members toured the ship and spent time with the crew.

Afterward, choppy waters gave the Navy trouble as it returned the mourners to shore.

As the Briscoe headed toward the Coast Guard station in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, it stopped and transferred mourners to the Coast Guard cutter Hammerhead, which brought them to shore.

Details of ceremony

Three sets of remains, three American flags and three wreaths with red, yellow and white flowers were brought aboard the Briscoe for the ceremony honoring Kennedy, 38, his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, 33, and her sister, Lauren Bessette, 34.

Defense Department sources tell CNN that 17 family members attended the service. The mourners included Kennedy's sister, Caroline Kennedy, his uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and cousins Maria Shriver and William Kennedy Smith.

Relatives of the Bessette sisters also attended, including their mother, Ann Freeman, stepfather, Dr. Richard Freeman, and Lauren Bessette's twin sister, Lisa Ann Bessette.

Sources also said five members of the clergy, including four Navy chaplains and a Jesuit priest associated with the Kennedy family, made "brief comments."

A brass quartet was also part of the ceremony. Music selections included the song "Eternal Father," also known as the Navy Hymn.

The ashes were "remitted to the sea" from the accommodation ladder at the rear of the ship, sources said.

One to three family members remitted each set of remains one at a time. They were aided by naval personnel for safety reasons.

While the Roman Catholic Church has not traditionally endorsed cremation, it now permits the practice.

At the same time as the burials at sea, a memorial ceremony was held aboard the USS John F. Kennedy to honor the passing of the son of the aircraft carrier's namesake.

The JFK, as the ship is called by sailors, is participating in a fleet exercise off the mid-Atlantic coast.

Old St. Patrick's Cathedral
A community remembers Kennedy at Old St. Patrick's Cathedral  

Wreckage to go to Rhode Island

Before the Briscoe put out to sea for the ceremony, the Coast Guard cutter Sanibel carried passengers to the destroyer, including members of both families.

The burials at sea took place about 4.5 miles southwest of the Martha's Vineyard community of Gay Head. The crash occurred in the vicinity, about seven miles off the Massachusetts island.

The FAA placed a five-mile restriction on the airspace around the scene, limiting news coverage.

Following a five-day search for the crash victims, divers brought the bodies to the ocean surface on Wednesday. The bodies were found under 116 feet of water, near the point where Kennedy's Piper Saratoga II crashed on Friday night.

The Navy salvage ship USS Grasp was continuing its efforts to retrieve the wreckage Thursday.

The pieces will be taken by the Grasp to the naval piers at Newport, Rhode Island, on Thursday or Friday, where they will be examined by investigators, a Pentagon official told CNN.

The Navy expects the recovery ship to return to the crash site to continue with efforts to bring more pieces of the plane to the surface, but that decision is ultimately up to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Cause of death

The burials at sea followed autopsies by the Barnstable County medical examiner's office on Cape Cod.

All three victims died instantly of multiple traumatic injuries resulting from the crash, according to a statement released by the Cape & Islands district attorney.

The Cape Cod Times reported Thursday the Kennedy family had asked that no photographs be taken during the autopsy of John Jr. because they could end up in tabloids or on the Internet. Such photographs are routinely taken during autopsies.

Authorities would not confirm the report, saying only that the wishes of the family were "appropriately expressed ... where it was possible."

Sea burial was JFK Jr.'s wish

Sen. Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, had requested the burial at sea, saying it was his nephew's wish to be cremated and his ashes spread on the waves. The request was approved by Defense Secretary William Cohen.

The family of the Bessette sisters requested that the two women be buried in the same ceremony, the Pentagon said.

John Jr., like his father, the late President John F. Kennedy, had a love of the sea. He spent many summers sailing and kayaking the waters where his plane crashed.

Pentagon officials tell CNN there are two grounds for granting permission for a naval burial at sea. First, there is a provision allowing for such burials for people providing "notable service or outstanding contributions to the United States."

Also, protocol allows sea burials for the children of decorated Navy veterans. President Kennedy was a naval officer wounded and cited for heroism in World War II.

Requiem Mass said

As bagpipers played a traditional Irish dirge, hundreds of mourners filed into Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York Thursday evening for a public Requiem Mass for JFK Jr., his wife and her sister.

The service was open to the public and organized by the Irish community to honor the son of the nation's first -- and so far, only -- Roman Catholic president.

The Kennedy family is planning a private memorial Mass "to celebrate the lives of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr." It. will take place at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in New York City at 11 a.m. EDT on Friday.

The 500-seat church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is where John Jr.'s late mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, worshipped. President Bill Clinton, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, plan to attend the service.

At the same time as that Mass, Harlem residents will hold their own community service.

Isaiah Owens, owner of Owens Funeral Home, has kept a wreath and a funeral register sitting outside his Harlem location since Tuesday, where more than 150 people have paid their respects.

On Friday at 11 a.m. EDT, a local pastor will hold a community service for people to remember what Owens calls "the good works" of Kennedy.

Owens said there will be music, a chorus, flowers and prayers during the Friday morning ceremony.

The family of the Bessette sisters is planning an invitation- only memorial service at 7 p.m. Saturday at Christ Church, an Episcopal congregation in their hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut.

The service will include remembrances of Kennedy and his wife, but is meant especially for Lauren Bessette. "I think people have tended to forget that she is a person in her own right," said Mary Marks, parish secretary.

The sisters' mother and stepfather will attend, and Lauren's twin sister, Lisa Ann Bessette, also is expected to be there, Marks said.

Correspondents John King, Martin Savidge, Mike Boettcher and Carl Rochelle and National Security Producer Chris Plante contributed to this report.

NTSB: JFK Jr.'s plane shows no in-flight break-up or fire
July 30, 1999
At candlelight service for Lauren Bessette, mourners also pray for sister, Kennedy
July 25, 1999
Investigators to examine wreckage of Kennedy plane
July 26, 1999
Thousands turn out in Washington for Kennedy-Bessette memorial
July 25, 1999
Wreckage of Kennedy plane delivered to Cape Cod
July 24, 1999
Ted Kennedy pays tribute to his nephew
July 23, 1999
JFK Jr. remembered as legend with sense of humor
July 23, 1999
Memorial service attendees
July 23, 1999
Husband of '1,000 days' and 'perfect soul-mate' memorialized
July 23, 1999
Seeing the century through values and ambitions of Kennedys
July 22, 1999

Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, MA, Cape Cod's Daily Newspaper
U.S. Navy assists in search for for JFK plane
National Transportation Safety Board
The New Piper Aircraft, Inc. "Saratoga II TC"
  • The New Piper Aircraft, Inc. "Piper Press Releases"
United States Coast Guard
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • NOAA ship Whiting joins the Rude in search for Kennedy plane
  • NOAA Ship RUDE
  • Side Scan Sonar and Multibeam Sonar
Condolence Page of John F. Kennedy, Jr.
Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce
  • Martha's Vineyard Beaches
  • Aquinnah Town Government
Massachusetts Community Profiles - Gay Head (Aquinnah)
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