By Katie McFadden
The name Ava means “life.” It was something Ava Conklin loved and lived to the fullest in her short 19 years on earth. On Friday, June 30, the corner of Beach 108th and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, a spot of horror on Saturday, June 24, where the young woman was tragically killed, was turned into a corner that radiated life as the Broad Channel, Rockaway and even Manhattan communities came together to celebrate the life of Ava Conklin.
On June 24, the life of the young girl was cut short when a car jumped the curb, striking her as she waited for her little sister to get off of the bus, just after finishing her shift as a hostess at The Rockaway Hotel. The sudden, unimaginable event left all who had the pleasure of knowing Ava in shock and deep grief, including her Hell’s Kitchen community where she lived with her mom, Chrissy Collins, the Broad Channel community where her father, Matthew Conklin lives, and the Rockaway community where extended family live, where she worked and where her life came to an end.
Through the shock and grief, her family organized a local vigil for Ava, following her wake and funeral in Manhattan on June 22 and 23, so the communities could come together and celebrate the life that Ava lived, on a corner that came to life with flowers, balloons, photos and candles decorating the area, and a massive group of people that came to pay their respects.
The vigil began with Rev. Msgr. Richard J. Ahlemeyer of St. Camillus-St. Virgilius, reciting the poem, “The Dash” by Linda Ellis, which reminds people to focus on the dash between a person’s birth and death date, the dash that signifies how a person lived their life. “Since last Saturday, when Ava was so tragically taken from us right here on this corner, many things have been written on social media and in newspapers and printed at the wake and the funeral and they spoke of a dash that maybe was not as long as we wished it might be, less than 20 years, but what matters not is the quantity of that life but the quality in which that life is spent, and if there’s one thing that has come clearly through in this past week, is that Ava’s life was lived in such a way that the quality of that dash touched so many people, and for that reason we gather here tonight,” Msgr. Ahlemeyer said before asking the crowd to bow their heads as he led a prayer.
Surrounded by family, Ava’s aunt, Kathleen Donohue, then told the crowd about her late niece. “Ava’s light shone brightly from the moment she entered this world on August 3, 2003, bringing joy and happiness to everyone around her. Ava’s infectious smile and unwavering happiness were a testament to her remarkable spirit. Through her 19 years of life, she never lost that radiance, remaining a source of positivity and warmth to all who knew her,” Donohue said.
She then spoke of Ava’s talents and aspirations of being a Broadway star. “From her early days at Rosie’s Theater Kids to her time at the Talent Unlimited High School, her heart was set on Broadway. With a passion for dancing, performing and an angelic voice that could move hearts, she was a star in our eyes, embodying the essence of her family’s Broadway legacy,” Donohue said.
At the end, Donohue let the crowd get a taste of it, bringing Ava’s talent to life once again, playing a recording of a karaoke session the family had on a vacation, in which Ava sang “Hey Jude” by The Beatles, her favorite band. As the crowd held candles in the air, Ava’s angelic voice filled the air, spurring tears and, at times, laughter as the family reflected on a happier time with the talented girl.
“We will forever miss Ava’s silliness, her infectious smile and the warmth of her hugs, her authentic and unpretentious way of life,” Donohue said. “Not desiring materialistic things or conforming to societal expectations serves as a powerful reminder for us to stay true to ourselves. Ava’s love for thrifted clothes and her passion for music reflected her unique essence, one that celebrated individuality and embraced the world around her. To know Ava, was to love her, her genuine nature, her unwavering kindness and her compassionate spirit endeared her to everyone fortunate enough to cross her path.
“She was,” Donohue continued, holding back tears, “without a doubt, too good for this earth. Tonight, as we gather in this candlelight vigil, let us honor Ava’s memory by embracing her zest for life, her love for family, her devotion to the arts and her compassionate soul. Let us keep her light alive within our hearts and may it guide us to cherish every moment, find beauty in simplicity and love unconditionally just as Ava did.”
Donohue also thanked the community and all of those who have showed their support for the family, through words and monetary donations for things like meals and the cost of services. She also thanked Terence Tubridy of In Good Company Hospitality for his support and the Department of Sanitation, where Matthew Conklin works, for showing up and playing bagpipes at the funeral. She also thanked all of those in attendance at the vigil.
“We want to acknowledge and appreciate those who came together today to transform this corner into a space that Ava would have loved. Your efforts in decorating this place with love and care have created a poignant and beautiful tribute to her spirit. In your hands, this once horrific corner has become a testament to Ava’s zest for life and her love for the beauty that surrounded her,” Donohue said. “Let the warm glow of these candles symbolize the light that Ava brought into our lives. As we illuminate the night with our collective love and remembrance, let us find solace in knowing that her life will forever shine brightly in our hearts. We love you, Ava.”
According to those with knowledge of the case, charges have still not been made against the unidentified 29-year-old driver of the vehicle, who claimed to have fallen asleep behind the wheel when he hit Ava. The family was awaiting results of a toxicology report but have since allegedly been told that toxicology testing was never done.