A communal funeral for victims of New York City’s deadliest fire in years has been planned for Sunday, a week after the the blaze in the Bronx high-rise.
The service is to be held at the Islamic Cultural Center in the Bronx, said Imam Musa Kabba of Masjid-Ur-Rahmah, the mosque where some victims’ families have been gathering to grieve.
Funerals began Wednesday with a service at a Harlem mosque for two victims, Seydou Toure, 12, and sister Haouwa Mahamadou, 5.
Community leaders have been huddling to make arrangements for the remaining 15 victims, who all had ties to Gambia. The dead began arriving Thursday afternoon at a Queens funeral home, where they would be cleansed and wrapped according to Islamic tradition.
Some families have been deciding between whether to bury their loved ones in their West African homeland or in the United States.
“There’s lots of emotion — lots of emotion — as we go back and forth about where to bury them, here or taking them back home,” said Haji Dukuray, the uncle of Haja Dukuray, who died with her husband and three children. The New York Police Department had initially identified Haja Dukuray as Haja Dukureh.
Dukuray’s own family has been conflicted about that decision but in the end will bury their loved ones in the United States.
“This is unprecedented. There’s a lot of emotion in those conversations, whether it’s amongst us here, or it’s among the families in the Gambia,” he said.
The five are among the dead who have yet to be laid to rest, as are a 2-year-old boy, a mother who died with three of her children, and a husband and wife whose four children are now orphans.
Some families have been waiting for funeral homes to deliver their loved ones and, in some cases, deciding between burials here or having their loved ones returned to Gambia, in West Africa.
The medical examiner’s office said that two of the dead were released earlier in the week and that funeral homes have yet to take possession of the others.
The medical examiner’s office said all the victims suffocated from the thick smoke that poured out of a third-floor apartment, where officials say a malfunctioning electrical space heater sparked the fire.
Many people escaped the 19-story building, but others died as they tried to make their way down the smoke-choked stairs.