Bronx Fire Victims Honored at Funerals

The Patch - January 09, 2018

by Noah Manskar, Patch Staff

THE BRONX, NY — Seven of the 13 victims of a massive apartment fire in the Bronx will be remembered at funeral services this week. A memorial service on Monday afternoon will honor members of a Jamaican family who died in the blaze in the Belmont neighborhood: Karen Stewart-Francis, her husband, Holt Francis, their daughters, 2-year-old Kylie and 7-year-old Keleisha, and their 19-year-old niece, Shawntay Young.

Holt Francis became the fire's most recent victim on Thursday, when his family took him off life support, his sister-in-law, Andrene Paul, wrote last week on a GoFundMe page raising money for the family's funeral expenses. R.G. Ortiz Funeral Home in Inwood will host the family's memorial service.

A 3-year-old boy playing with burners on the stove in his family's first-floor apartment ignited the Dec. 28 blaze, fire officials said. Flames shot out of the apartment and up the five-story building's stairwell, killing some residents trying to escape on their way down, officials said.

Among the victims were a 8-month-old girl, Amora Batiz, and her grandmother, Maria Batiz. They were honored with a funeral service on Sunday, The New York Times reported.

"I lost everything in a matter of minutes," Amora Batiz's mother, Christine Batiz, wrote on a GoFundMe page created a day after the fire. "One thing you know my daughter is playing with her new toys the next hour they are gone from my life."

Batiz's fundraiser met its $59,000 goal to cover her daughter's and mother's funeral expenses. Andrene so far has raised about $25,000 toward the $50,000 needed to give her family a funeral and take their bodies to be buried in their native Jamaica.

The fire struck a diverse working-class neighborhood near Fordham University on a freezing-cold late December night. It was the deadliest blaze in New York City since a 1980 arson at the Bronx's Happy Land nightclub killed 87 people.

The other six victims — Solomon, Hannah and William Donkor, Gabriel Sakodie, Justice Opoku and Emmanuel Mensah — were immigrants from Ghana.

The National Ghana Parade Council, a Bronx-based cultural group, is raising money to pay for their funerals, which the group says will start Jan. 20. The council is also hosting a Jan. 13 candlelight vigil in the Bronx to honor the Ghanaian victims.

Mensah, a private first class in the U.S. Army, reportedly rescued a family of six from the fire and went back into the building several more times before he died. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer asked the Army to give him posthumous military honors.

"Pfc. Mensah was many things: a soldier, an immigrant, a first generation American, a New Yorker but above all else he was a hero," Schumer wrote in a letter to the secretary of the Army, Mark T. Esper. "His courage, sacrifice and utter selflessness in the face of mortal danger make him a worthy example for every American to follow."

A separate fundraiser aims to collect $120,000 to help pay for all the victims' funerals. The actress Alyssa Milano gave $100 to the cause.

(Lead image: Christina Batiz, right, poses with her 8-month-old daughter Amora and her mother Maria, who both died in the Dec. 28 Bronx fire. Photo via GoFundMe)