Funeral for four young fire victims

Patrick Sanyeah reflects at a picture of son Patrick Jr., 4, during Saturday's funeral in Southwest Philadelphia. The boy was one of four children killed in a July fire. Story, B11.
Patrick Sanyeah reflects at a picture of son Patrick Jr., 4, during Saturday's funeral in Southwest Philadelphia. The boy was one of four children killed in a July fire. Story, B11. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 18, 2014

Patrick K. Sanyeah Jr., 4, had recently learned to spell his name.

Maria and Marialla Bowah, 4-year-old twins, wanted to be doctors when they grew up, pretending to treat relatives when they were sick.

Taj W. Jacque, who lived all of 49 days, "was a bundle of joy and the center of our universe," said Queen Pour, one of his aunts, as she stood before four small, gleaming white caskets. "We loved him so much, but God loved him best."

The four children who died in the fire on Southwest Philadelphia's Gesner Street in July were laid to rest Saturday after a three-hour service filled with tears as well as tributes to the children and the community that responded to the tragedy.

The families held the service at the Divine Mercy Parish in Southwest Philadelphia, almost six weeks after the fire, partly because some of the children's relatives, including the twins' mother, were injured and hospitalized in the blaze. The children also were part of the region's Liberian community, requiring some relatives to fly in from Africa.

"This is such a sad day for us. We've been having to deal with this since July the fifth," said State Rep. Ron Waters (D., Phila.), whose district includes Gesner Street, where 13 homes were damaged or destroyed by the fire. "So many people have been affected by this."

More than a dozen speakers took the podium, including several religious leaders, representatives from the governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone and Philadelphia, whose City Council issued proclamations to memorialize each victim.

"In spite of the tragedy, a diverse community came together and put all of our differences aside for what we have in common, and that's our love for humanity," Waters added.

Donations and aid have poured in to help the families of the children as well as more than 30 people displaced by the blaze, the cause of which may never be known.

Fire officials said Friday that their investigation hasn't been able to reveal an exact cause, partly because the blaze destroyed much of the physical evidence. The fire may have started on the couch of a rowhouse on the 6500 block of Gesner before quickly growing and consuming neighboring homes.

The memorial speeches focused on the deceased children and their community.

Washington Bowah, an uncle of the twins, said "they were inseparable and loved each other" and were eagerly awaiting preschool.

"They told their mother that they wanted to be doctors to help people, and played doctor whenever someone was sick in the family," he added.

Pour, the aunt of brothers Patrick and Taj, described Patrick's reaction to Taj's birth in May.

"On [Patrick's] last birthday, three days after Taj Jacque was born, he told his mother, 'Mommy, Taj was the best birthday present you gave me,' " Pour said. " 'I'll be a good big brother.' "

The white caskets carrying the two brothers and the two sisters were then led outside into the harsh August light, surrounded by nearly 500 people, many of them crying.


bfinley@phillynews.com

610-313-8118

@Ben_Finley

www.inquirer.com/bucksinq

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