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N.Y. fire victims mourned

Rites for nine children and a mother in Bronx draw strangers bound by faith and heritage.

March 13, 2007|Michael Frazier | Newsday

NEW YORK — For a few hours Monday, a city street in the Bronx seemed to transform into a grief-stricken African village, with deeply religious mourners dressed in traditional garb for the funerals of 10 people, including nine children, who died in a devastating house fire.

Nine simple wooden coffins were carried inside a mosque before hundreds of mourners, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Infant twins shared a coffin.

The funeral was closed to the public. Even mourners who knew the family were in many cases turned away at the Islamic Cultural Center because there was no room. The overflow mourners, some carrying prayer mats, sat without shoes atop blue tarps on the city street.

One onlooker, who identified himself only as Guye, 21, a native of the West African nation of Mali, didn't know the victims -- all of Malian descent -- but said a common homeland and a shared faith in Islam bind strangers.

In Africa, "if there is a loss, the community comes out in droves," he said. "It's always been like this. If someone dies in your neighborhood, everybody is going to show up, whether you know them or not."

Amir Ali-Dorsey, 45, who traveled from his East Orange, N.J., home to pay respects, said he had never met the grieving families but considered them kin.

"We support each other when it comes to a funeral," he said.

Inside the mosque was Mamadou Soumare, who lost his wife and four children in the Wednesday blaze that destroyed his Bronx home. Moussa Magassa, who lost five of his 11 children, was there too.

Officials blamed a faulty space heater cord for the blaze.

Twenty-two Malians, 17 of them children, lived in the home.

After the services Magassa's children were buried in a New Jersey Muslim cemetery. They were Bilaly, 1; Diaba, 3; Aboubacar, 6; Mahamadou, 9; and Bandiougu, 11.

At least one of his surviving children, Kadiatou, 7, remained in a Bronx hospital in good condition.

Soumare's wife, Sadibe, 42, and children -- Hassimy, 7; Djibril, 4; and twin daughters Sisi and Harouma, 7 months -- were to be flown to Mali for burial.

"Nine coffins, 10 lives, and millions and millions of people throughout America and Mali ... feel the pain of the families," Bloomberg said at the service.

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