The devastated parents traveled a continent and an ocean away from their homes to pay their respects in Philadelphia near the site where their children perished in last month's duck-boat accident.
It was supposed to be a time for solace and reflection when they reached the Delaware River yesterday, but before the Hungarian nationals knew it, they got punched in the proverbial gut.
"We were down by the river and as we threw the flowers in for our children, we saw a duck boat pass in front of us," said Aniko Takacs, the mother of 16-year-old Dora Schwendtner. "I thought it was terrible."
Bob Mongeluzzi, who is among the lawyers representing Takacs and Peter Schwendtner, as well as Sandor and Sandorne Prem, the parents of Szabolcs Prem, 20, said he was present and equally incredulous.
"It was an irony, but really an emotional shock to the families to be there in a 10-minute stretch, to pay respect to their children and to be confronted with one of the instruments of their death," Mongeluzzi said. "That was a very, very hard moment."
Representatives of Ride the Ducks said they had no idea about the snafu until they were informed by a reporter.
"If we had known that they would be in Penn's Landing, we would have never taken the boats out, but it is what it is," said Bob Salmon, vice president of marketing for the company. "We understand it was difficult for the families today. Our sympathy is with the family. It was an unfortunate situation."
There must have been many tough moments, as the families' reasons for visiting Philadelphia are far from pleasurable. They signed legal papers at the Registrar of Wills yesterday morning and later visited Penn's Landing, where their children drowned July 7. The parents floated out a white wreath for Dora and a red, white and blue wreath for Szabolcs. Each was an only child.
Then they faced the media, a box of tissues close by. The parents answered questions from reporters interpreted by New York-based counsel Peter Ronai, who is fluent in Hungarian:
* "I told everyone, anyone with half the child as great as ours, they should be happy," said Sandorne Prem, the mother of the soccer-loving Szabolcs. "We had everything in this world and now we have nothing."
"He would have loved to grow up and lived his life," said his father, Sandor Prem.
* "She was a very sweet, nice girl," Takacs said of Dora. "She had many dreams. She loved to live life. She loved to learn. She was waiting her whole life for this trip. I can't speak anymore."
"We want to make sure that this never happens again to anybody else," Peter Schwendtner said. "And if there's a way, I'd really like that these duck boats be out of business and not operate anymore."
The company has been doing training from Saturday until yesterday, teaching 20 captains in small groups, Salmon said.
Ride the Ducks is working with the Coast Guard so that they can get out on the water again. When asked if that included a different route on the Delaware River, Salmon declined to give specifics.
"I can't at this point address what that route could look like," Salmon said. "The key thing is we're working with the Coast Guard and the city to get back into operation, and we're following the proper procedures to do that."