By Thomas Tracy
As Bay Ridge’s close-knit Muslim community continues to reel in pain over the loss of two young children, their neighbors are taking steps to shower them with the love and support they sorely need in this time of tragedy. “Everything happened so fast,” City Councilmember Vincent Gentile told this paper Sunday, when reflecting on the fire that ravaged a home on the 500 block of 73rd Street that took the lives of two sweet little children. “The grieving is still significant, so we haven’t had a chance to plan anything, but we’ll be contacting the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge to see if there is any assistance we can give the family in this terrible time.” As this paper went to press, prayer and memorial services, as well as collections of food and clothing were being discussed to honor the memories of little Aya Khawatini, age four, and Fatin Lazhir, age two, who were laid to rest Friday during an emotional funeral held at the Islamic Society on Friday. Both girls were killed early Thursday morning when a fire sparked by a faulty electric heater ripped through their home, leaving their mother, two sisters and entire extended family homeless. Fire Department officials said a total of 15 people were in the three-story home when the fire erupted just after 5 a.m. Everyone got out with light injuries except for the two girls, who were found in separate bedrooms on the second floor. A total of seven people were injured in the blaze, suffering from burns and minor scrapes and bruises to smoke inhalation, fire officials said. Witnesses said that Amal Lazhir, the mother of the two children, had just left to go to work when the fire began. When cops brought the panicked woman back home, she was seen trying to rush back into the burning home, screaming Aya and Fatin’s names, neighbors recalled. The heavy fire completely destroyed the family’s apartment. Fire marshals later determined that the fire was caused by a space heater that may have had a compromised or frayed electrical cord. The damaged heater set off a wad of bedding that was placed too close to it, said Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Robert Byrns during a press conference held outside the charred remains of the once-quaint home. “Heaters can be very dangerous,” Byrns said. “I know you have to use them in the cold weather, but they should not be left unattended for long periods of time.” Gentile, State Senator Marty Golden and other local community leaders joined upwards of 300 mourners as they packed the 5th Avenue mosque during Friday’s service. Officials at Senator Golden’s office said that they are prepared to do a clothing and house ware drive for the survivors of the tragedy, but were waiting for hear from the family to determine what their current needs are. Former Community Board 10 chair Steven Harrison said that he and several other community leaders would like to express the neighborhood’s support of the Lazhir family with a prayer service. The ceremony would be held in front of their home, as long as the family feels it’s appropriate, Harrison said. “This was a horrible tragedy that affected the entire community,” he explains. “We want to do everything we can do to help this family, but we want to do it in good taste.” “Sadly, there isn’t a silver lining in this tragedy,” he said. “The only positive thing that can come out something this terrible is the feeling of human camaraderie we all share.” “In times like this, human nature shows that we are all one,” he said. As of this writing, monetary donations to help the Lahzir family can be sent to the Bay Ridge Islamic Center, attention: Mohamed Elnashar at 6807 5th Avenue Brooklyn, New York 11220.