NEW YORK — Hundreds of mourners gathered inside and outside the Islamic Cultural Center of the Bronx on Sunday for the funerals of 15 of the 17 people who died when a fire tore through an apartment building in Fordham Heights last week.
The Jan. 9 blaze at the Twin Parks North West complex killed nine adults and eight children, officials said. All 17 of the victims had ties to West Africa. Tents lined East 166th Street in the Concourse section of the Bronx Sunday morning in anticipation of a large turnout.
What You Need To Know
- Funeral services were held Sunday morning for 15 of 17 people who died in an apartment building fire in Fordham Heights on Jan. 9
- Hundreds of mourners gathered inside and outside the Islamic Cultural Center of the Bronx to pay their respects
- Politicians including Mayor Eric Adams, Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Attorney General Letitia James spoke before prayers began
- “We have an obligation to be here for the families, and allow them to get the support they need to get through this period," Adams said
The 15 caskets that held the bodies of the victims were of different sizes, as those killed ranged in age from two to 50. Politicians including Mayor Eric Adams, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Attorney General Letitia James and Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin spoke at the Muslim service before prayers began.
“As people of faith, the Quran states, in essence, those we lost belong to God. And today, we return them to God,” Adams said. “We have an obligation to be here for the families, and allow them to get the support they need to get through this period.”
“The American dream, for too many, burnt in that fire,” he added. “It is our obligation to make sure that the dream remains alive for all of us.”
Mourner Aminade Cisse, who came to New York from Guinea, said she attended the funeral to support the city's African community.
"We are all the same. We are all African. When something like this happens, it’s like it happened to all the community," Cisse said. "That’s why I came, to represent my respect for the loss. God give, God taketh. All we believe is that. We are all going to go one day, but we pray for them, God give them the peace of mind.”
Among the victims were four members of one family: Fatoumata Drammeh, 50, and her children Foutmala Drammeh, 21, Nyumaaisha Drammeh, 19, and Muhammed Drammeh, 12.
Patricia Gittens and Ruth Watkis, who are extended extended cousins of the family, gathered alongside other mourners on Sunday. Crowds of people waited in the cold outside the center to paying their respects.
“It’s hard for everybody right now, so we are here for support, and to have our condolences here,” Watkis said.
Adams on Friday announced that every family affected by the fire would receive an “immediate” $2,250 payment, with more financial support to come from a relief fund that has raised more than $2.2 million.
Speaking at the service on Sunday, Benjamin said the state would also provide $2 million in assistance to aid tenants impacted by the fire.
“To the families who are here, and those who are outside, I want you to know that the Bronx is not only a part of New York City. The Bronx is a part of New York state,” he said, calling the blaze an “unimaginable tragedy.”
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, meanwhile, offered up the support of the entire community.
"I want all of you to know that we are all family, as Africans, as Muslims," Gibson said. "Whether you are from Gambia, Mali, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, it doesn't matter. We are all one people."
The U.S. Embassy in Gambia, Schumer told mourners, was closed due to COVID-19, but has reopened so relatives of the victims can secure visas to fly to New York to grieve with their loved ones.
“These coffins, and the lives they represented, and the families they represented, wrenched the hearts of all New Yorkers," he said. "When tragedies like this occur, we come together.”
Eleven of the victims will be laid to rest in New Jersey, while four will be going to Gambia for burials. Funerals for the two other victims were held this past Wednesday.
In their own remarks, both James and New York City Comptroller Brad Lander blasted the conditions that led up to the fatal fire.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro previously said a “malfunctioning” electric space heater sparked the blaze. A faulty self-closing door, meanwhile, allowed the entire building to fill with smoke.
“I find it difficult to believe that this is the will of God. I find it difficult to believe that God wanted this to happen. This was about neglect,” James said. "No individuals should have to have space heaters. No individuals should have doors that do not close. There were conditions in that building that should have been corrected.”
“Every one of [the victims] should be here today,” Lander added. “But for heat that wasn’t enough, but for doors that didn’t close, but for inspections that were not enforced, but for oversight that failed to happen, but for a housing market that puts profit over human lives, they would be here today with us.”