Death Toll in Belmont Fire Rises to 13; Borough Donates Clothes Victims will Never See

Death Toll in Belmont Fire Rises to 13; Borough Donates Clothes Victims will Never See
by David Greene

An NYPD Community Affairs officers tells the public that St. Martin of Tour’ Church was no longer accepting clothing donations.–Photo by David Greene

The Bronx community came out in sub-zero weather to donate needed items to the families displaced by a devastating fire, which has now claimed a 13th life.

According to the NYPD, 10 victims died at the scene of the horrific fire of December 28, at 2357 Prospect Avenue. Two additional victims were rushed to local hospital’s where they too died. On January 4, the NYPD reported that a 13th victim had succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.

On December 29 and updated on January 4, the police released the names and ages of the deceased: Shantay Young, 19, Karen Francis, 37, Kyle Francis, 2, Charmela Francis, 7, Maria Batiz, 58, Amora Batiz, 7 months, Gabriel Yaw Sarkookie, 48, Emmanuel Mensah, 28, Justice Opoku, 54, Solomon Donkor, 48, William Donkor, age unknown, Hannah Donkor, 17 and Holt Francis, 27.

Despite a plea from the NYPD to stay away from the area, a group of local clergy members including Chaplain’s Irene Estrada and Annette DeJesus and Father Jonathan Moore of Mt. Carmel Church organized a hastily planned vigil on the corner of East 187 Street, attended by about 60.

Chaplin Estrada fumed, “I called all the politicians and they said they weren’t coming, that they had other priorities in Manhattan. Estrada later noted that Councilman Ritchie Torres attended the memorial as did Community Board #6 District Manager John Sanchez.

Estrada, who said she personally invited all local elected officials to the vigil, stated, “There very neglectful because regardless of how many votes you get from that particular area, you have an accountability to the families, the community and to the people. The people are hurting and they should have been there.”

Residents of Belmont and clergy leaders lead a candlelight vigil at East 187 Street and Prospect Avenue on December 29.–Photo by David Greene

The FDNY would soon announce that the fire began with an unattended child playing with the stove. The mother then grabbed her two kids and fled the apartment, sending the blaze into the hallway and up the stairs trapping residents. One woman claimed that the landlord had not been giving heat, causing the need for the oven to be on.

On December 31, many displaced families arrived by private vehicle and taxi at St. Martin of Tour’ Church to pick up needed clothes, shoes, diapers and food. A Community Affairs officer of the NYPD was already turning away clothing donations, because the church was filled to capacity.

An NYPD Community Affairs officer hands fire victim Seydou Diabate, 36, store gift cards.–Photo by David Greene

Fire victim Katherine Mendoza, 16, said of the horrific night, “It was really terrifying because we were on the third-floor, so we didn’t know what was happening and the fire alarms weren’t working.”

Mendoza continued, “We opened the door and we saw all this smoke coming in… and we got out through the fire escape.” The teenager recalled how firefighters had not yet arrived as she made her way down the fire escape with five family members and other residents. Asked for her thoughts at the time, Mendoza replied, “Oh, I’m gonna die.”

Firefighters used tower ladders and portable ladders to access the first three-floors after a deadly fire at 2363 Prospect Avenue in the Belmont section.–Photo by David Greene

Seydou Diabate, 36, a taxi driver and immigrant from the Ivory Coast of Africa, left the church with bags of clothes and toys for his wife and two children, who were not inside their second-floor apartment at the time of the fire.

Placed by the city with other families at the Holiday Inn in Long Island City, Queens, Diabate was asked if it would have been more convenient to be placed in the borough they resided in, he replied, “Yes, it would be easier of course, but we don’t have a choice. I’m lucky I have a car.”

A prayer service was held for the 13 victims who perished in the December 28 fire on Prospect Avenue.–Photo by David Greene

A second, larger vigil was held on January 2 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on East 187 Street that was attended by most local officials. One notable absentee was Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Article: