- Associated Press - Monday, January 8, 2018

NEW YORK (AP) - Wails of grief rang out at a funeral Monday for five family members who were killed in a Bronx apartment building fire, the city’s deadliest fire since 1990.

The family members were among 13 people who died in the Dec. 28 fire, which officials said was caused by a 3-year-old boy playing with stove burners.

The service was held at a Manhattan funeral home for Holt Francis; his wife, Karen Stewart-Francis; their daughters, 2-year-old Kylie and 7-year-old Kelesha; and their 19-year-old cousin, Shawntay Young. They’re to be buried together in Jamaica.

Mourners clung to each other as they passed the open caskets. One woman cried out, “Why?” Another collapsed to the floor.

The wife’s sister, Andrene Paul, called the fire devastating.

“There’s nothing here. It’s hollow,” Paul said. “Could not be the whole family like that, the whole family. Nothing is left for us. How do we deal with that? How do we pick up the pieces from that?”

When asked about the cause of the fire, Paul took affront.

“I don’t want nobody to tell me that a 3-year old is responsible. I’m sorry my 10-year-old here cannot go near a stove in my house. Don’t tell me anything about a 3-year old,” Paul said.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said a preschooler toying with the burners on his mother’s stove accidentally sparked the fire - an inferno that quickly overtook the building and blocked the main escape route, racing through a door and up five floors.

Funerals will be held for the other mostly working-class immigrant victims over the next few weeks. On Sunday, funeral services were held for the youngest victim, 7-month-old Amora Batiz, and her grandmother, Maria Batiz, 65.

One of the victims, Emmanuel Mensah, 28, joined the military a year earlier, Army officials said. The Ghana native was home for Christmas after finishing National Guard basic training in Fort Lee, Virginia.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer has urged the Army to posthumously honor Mensah, who raced repeatedly into the burning apartment building, saving four people before succumbing to the flames.


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