Liberian community honors fire victims at vigil

Posted: July 18, 2014

DEWEN BOWAH's right arm is still bandaged, hiding severe burns from the fatal flames of the Gesner Street fire.

She sat last night on the porch of her sister's house in Darby, her voice barely above a whisper - the lingering effects of smoke inhalation.

Bowah deferred questions to Milton Musa, the man who caught two of her daughters as they leaped from their burning home July 5.

Her youngest girls, twins Maria and Marialla, perished in the terrible inferno.

"It's a sad, sad situation," Musa said. "We're starting at zero."

Last night, residents of Gesner Street came together for a prayer vigil at the scene of the fire to honor Bowah, Musa and the other victims struggling to start anew.

"This is another step in the healing process," City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said outside Christ International Baptist Church, around the corner from the scene of the fire. "We're making sure we do everything we can to support the recovery efforts."

The basement of Christ International is filled with piles of donated clothes. The response has been so vast that a handwritten sign hangs on the church's door, asking kind souls to focus their donations on nonperishable food and toiletries.

The Rev. Napoleon Divine, Christ International's pastor, said the church's collection center has been staffed constantly in the days since the blaze, and has worked diligently to serve the victims.

The pastor was in high spirits yesterday as he walked with the procession of vigil attendees down Paschall Avenue, his voice carrying high as he led hymns including "This Little Light of Mine" and "Amazing Grace."

"By our very presence here this evening, we are standing with the families who lost their children and homes," he said.

Meanwhile, in Darby, Milton Musa was thankful for that effort.

Musa, who lived next door to Bowah on Gesner Street, also lost his home in the blaze. He woke up that morning as the flames scorched his rowhouse, and ran into his backyard, screaming the names of Bowah and her children.

He caught two of Bowah's daughters as they jumped from a second-story window, suffering a deep gash to his hand as they landed in his arms and on his back. When he tried to force his way inside the home, he was overcome by the smoke and flames.

Now, more than a week later, he's praising the efforts of the Liberian community to help him and his fellow victims recover.

"They are demonstrating a considerable effort for their own people," Musa said. "They are doing great things."

In the past week, donors have increased their charity to the family.

Trish Quinn, director of Final Farewell, a Jenkintown-based nonprofit, has donated caskets for the four young victims of the fire.

"The loss of a child can wreak havoc on a family for a long time," Quinn said. "This was a way I could give back."

Quinn said no definite plans for a funeral have been made, but that the Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Springfield, Delaware County, has donated burial plots.

Meanwhile, Antoine Turay, owner of the Turay Memorial Funeral Chapel in North Philly, has donated a hearse and limousine to the families.

"We swore to help them," said Turay, the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone. "It's just what we do; it's how we care for our community."


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