Calls to prayer rang out from a Bronx mosque on Wednesday, as a bereaved community prepares to bury their dead in the coming days and families seek closure from New York City’s most devastating fire in decades.
Among those who await funeral rites are a two-year-old boy, a mother who perished with three of her children, and a family of five, as well as a husband and wife whose four children were now orphans.
“This community, these people have gone through so much,” said Sheikh Musa Drammeh, a spokesperson for the community. At least a dozen victims worshipped at the Masjid-Ur-Rahmah mosque, just blocks from Sunday’s devastation.
“Now they are mourning, but they are very understanding that if it happened, it had to happen,” he said. “And they have no right to question why it happened.”
Community leaders were expected to huddle on Wednesday afternoon to plan out funeral arrangements and decide if any of the dead will be repatriated. The vast majority of those who died in the fire at a Bronx apartment complex had ties to The Gambia.
“The most important thing is really giving each other support. We are all members of the same community, so we are like family,” said Haji Dukuray, whose niece, Haja, died in the fire with her husband and their three children — Fatoumata, five; Mariam, 11, and Mustafa, 12.
Mustafa had just celebrated his birthday, the night before the fire. “Such beautiful angelic eyes,” neighbour Renee Howard, 68, had said about Mustafa earlier in the week.
The medical examiner’s office said all the victims suffocated from the thick smoke that poured out of a third-floor apartment, where officials said a malfunctioning electrical space heater sparked the deadly blaze.
The fire itself did not spread far, but it produced plumes of thick black smoke that streamed into the hallway before filling the stairwell. People ran down the darkened steps, some from the top floor of the 19-storey building. Many escaped, but others collapsed and perished on their way down.
The dead ranged in age from two-year-old Ousmane Konteh to 50-year-old Fatoumata Drammeh, according to a list of names released by New York City police, and included eight children.
Musa Kabba, the imam at the Masjid-Ur-Rahmah, said the mosque was trying to organise prayers and funerals.
The medical examiner’s office has yet to release all of the dead to their families.
Until then, families wait. Islamic tradition usually calls for burial within 24 hours, but the grieving has been further drawn out by the slow pace in which loved ones were being released to funeral homes.
“We’re all very anxious, to be honest with you,” said Dukuray. “It’s the most important thing to know right now and I can’t focus on anything until that really happens.”