Emotions ran raw outside the Islamic Cultural Center of the Bronx on Sunday as hundreds of mourners gathered in heated tents to pray and publicly pay their respects to 15 victims of last week’s fire at Twin Parks Tower Northwest.
Dozens more observed from East 166th Street and stood silently as rows of caskets were hauled one after the other inside the mosque.
The fire in the 19-story affordable housing tower killed 17, all felled by smoke that billowed through open doors and hallways. All of the victims were of west African origin or descent, the vast majority of them from Gambia.
The 15 victims honored on Sunday were the Drammeh family; the Dukureh family; Sera Janneh, 27; Fatoumata Tunkara, 43, and Omar Jambang, 6; Isatou Jabbie, 31, and Hagi Jawara, 47; and the fire’s youngest victim, 2-year-old Ousmane Konteh.
Police officials and community organizers prepared for 5,000 mourners to attend.
Two other victims, 12-year-old Seydou Toure and his 5-year-old sister Haouwa Mahamadou, were honored at a separate funeral at the Timbuktu Islamic Center in Harlem on Wednesday.
Mahamadou Kanteh, 29, who lost his cousins, Janneh, Tunkara and Jambang to the fire, said it gave him “peace to watch” the support from community members at the funeral and from fundraisers throughout the week.
“But it’s too much. It’s a sad time, a very sad time,” Kanteh said of his family. “I never thought I would see something like this. Please pray for them.”
All three floors of the Islamic Cultural Center were at capacity with an estimated 1,500 people inside, according to a police source.
Outside, mourners urged the city to investigate the building owners.
Ebrahim Ndure, 58, a community organizer with the Highbridge Islamic Center who had several friends among the victims, called on Mayor Eric Adams to find permanent housing for Twin Parks’ residents and to investigate the owners of the building.
He wore a sign that read: “We’re beyond angry and disagree 117% our fire was caused by ‘space heater and un-closed door’ that dysfunctional bldg.”
“We want to send a message to the authorities that for nearly half a century, this building has been in the hands of landlords who don’t give a damn, who are careless, and led the building to become dysfunctional, unsanitary and uninhabitable,” Ndure, 58, said.
Isatou Jarrow, who was friends with the Drammeh family, said the last few days were “very, very emotional.”
“The city never did anything,” to fix issues in the building, a defiant Jarrow, 38, said. “And now they stand up, they’re sympathizing — nonsense. You were supposed to do something before people died.”
“I don’t know them all, but we are all from the same country so whether I know them or not, we are all linked together,” she said of the other victims. “So that’s what we’re fighting for, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Adams and other elected officials, including Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Comptroller Brad Lander, Sen. Chuck Schumer, U.S. Reps. Ritchie Torres and Adriano Espaillat and local Councilmember Oswald Feliz, were in attendance at the private Janazah funeral prayer ceremony, a traditional Muslim funeral prayer, which was led by Imam Musa Kaba.
The mayor addressed mourners inside the mosque, a City Hall source confirmed.
Flags in New York city were flown at half-staff until sunset on Wednesday by order of the mayor. Several of the victims will be laid to rest with a traditional Muslim burial at the Mount Prospect Cemetery in Monmouth County, N.J.