By Mark Hallum
Queens Village showed its support for family and friends of four young people killed in a recent house fire at a Saturday funeral that drew around 1,000 mourners, including Rev. Al Sharpton, FDNY Commissioner Dan Nigro and various elected officials.
The April 23 blaze ripped through the 112-16 208th St. home quickly on a bright afternoon, killing five of the six occupants before firefighters could get the fire under control.
Jada Foxworth, 20, Destiny Dones, 16, Rashawn Matthews, 10, and Chayce Lipford, 2, were remembered at the overflowing funeral. Melody Edwards, 17, was buried Wednesday in Cambria Heights. An older relative, Eugene Green, jumped out a window on the second floor and survived.
The scene of the services at the New Greater Bethel Ministries in Queens Village was one of shared heartbreak that spilled out into the busy throughfare of Jamaica Avenue, where family and friends leaned on one another while some were convulsed with grief. One man paying his respects remarked that “a coliseum” would be a more appropriate venue to accommodate the crowd of mourners.
“Be with us at this time — it’s rough,” John Kennedy, a close relative of the victims, said. “We’re trying to deal with it as a family. As you see we’re quite a big family. It’s hard to deal with, but we’re trying.”
Beverly Bell and other family members paced up and down the sidewalk in front of the church supporting each other physically as well as emotionally as they cried and struggled for composure.
While the church printed up pamphlets and posters portraying the four victims with angel wings, many family members wore the same graphic printed up on white T-shirts.
Square Biz Motorcycle Club paid tribute to the victims by revving their engines and peeling away on their bikes before the caskets were brought out at about 2:30 p.m.
According to Nigro, the cause of the fire has not been determined, but because of the lack of a working smoke detector in the dwelling, the fire was not reported until about six minutes after the flames began to spread.
.“I wanted to come because I thought this is a tragedy that the whole city ought to embrace,” Sharpton said. “This trauma is something that could have happened to any of us and I wanted to be present to personally give words of comfort to the family.”
The civil rights leader went on to say: “This is something that in your worst nightmare you wouldn’t believe. There’s no way you can comprehend the pain and suffering the survivors would have, and this is one of the tragedies that all of us need to come together, regardless of our religion, regardless of our race. This is something that is a nightmare — that we want to hold their hands through this period.”
Nigro stressed the importance of using smoke alarms, while explaining that the FDNY had distributed 400 smoke alarms to residents in the area where the fire occurred.
“It was a personal loss for the [FDNY] members that were there and they could not get in there. They knew there were people inside,” Nigro said. “Fighting the fire was such that they couldn’t get in and save them, they could get them out, but unfortunately not in time. So it was very sad for these members.”
Some of the firefighters who responded stood in the median of Jamaica Avenue beside the engine from Border Patrol 162.
“We hope that everyone gets the message that it’s not an option to have a smoke alarm at home —it’s an absolute necessity,” Nigro said.
The funeral was live streamed on Facebook and had about 20,000 views.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall