15 Victims of Bronx Apartment Fire Mourned in Mass Funeral

People gather for funeral prayers for the victims of the Twin Parks North West apartment building fire. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

More than a thousand community members filled the blocks outside the Islamic Cultural Center in the Bronx on a bitterly cold Sunday morning, streaming inside and into overflow tents to remember victims of an apartment fire days earlier. Inside, community leaders and local officials prayed over caskets draped in black — and called for change to ensure such a tragedy never happens again.

Last Sunday, a fire broke out inside of a 120-unit tower, sending residents fleeing through smoke-filled hallways. Seventeen people were killed, including eight children. Fumes from the fire engulfed the building, and a spokesperson for the medical examiner said the victims died of smoke inhalation — the youngest victim was 2 years old and the eldest was 50.

Sheikh Musa Drammeh, a religious leader and community activist in the Gambian immigrant community, led the memorial service. He said while Islamic funerals are typically closed to the public, the decision was made to open this service to draw public attention to the tragedy. Separate funerals were held in recent days for two of the victims at an Islamic center in Harlem, according to local reports.

At the service, 15 caskets were displayed prominently for attendees to see.

“We are doing this to make everyone here feel uncomfortable,” Drammeh said. He said he hoped the visual representation of the loss of life would motivate the policymakers present to take action to ensure a similar event never occurs again in New York.

If the residents had lived “in midtown Manhattan, we would not have the funeral. They would not need space heaters,” Drammeh said. He said the “condition in which they lived caused their death and it is preventable.”

“People are dying because they lived in the Bronx. They will never achieve their American Dream because they lived in the Bronx. Their families will never ever see them again because they lived in the Bronx,” Drammeh said.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Jack Wright and Paulina Firozi