Mourners Attend Bronx Fire Victims' Funeral

Tuesday, March 13th 2007, 5:42 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Row after row of praying mourners knelt in the streets around a mosque, bowed their heads and lowered their foreheads to the ground.

The hundreds of mourners joined family and friends on Monday to pay their respects to the nine children and one woman killed in the city's deadliest fire in two decades.

``I haven't stopped crying yet,'' said Ethel Hogue, 63. ``You understand with adults, but children who haven't had a chance. The whole area is numb. We just can't believe this has happened.''

The waves of people kneeled on tarps, newspapers and prayer mats behind police barricades outside the Islamic Cultural Center, where simple wooden caskets were taken one by one. They included a tiny coffin holding 7-month-old twins.

Inside the mosque, just a few blocks from Wednesday's inferno, mourners prayed together in front of the caskets, which pointed toward Mecca in adherence to Islamic traditions.

``It was really something. I don't know how to describe it. People crying, making prayers, giving donations,'' Imam Konate Souleimane said of the funeral, which was closed to the public.

Mosque leaders covered the street with blue plastic tarps where mourners could kneel and pray for the victims _ men and women separated behind police barricades. Worshippers who didn't fit on the tarps placed their prayer rugs directly on the street or knelt on newspapers.

Several dignitaries also visited the mosque to pay their respects, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Moussa Magassa and Mamadou Soumare _ the two fathers of the children _ attended the funeral along with other family members. Magassa and Soumare shared the home that was engulfed in flames after a space heater sparked the fire.

As smoke and flames quickly spread through the house, a woman threw two children out of windows to men on the ground. Magassa was in Mali on business and Soumare was driving a taxi at the time of the fire.

After the ceremony, pallbearers carried the caskets out of the mosque toward a procession of hearses. The bodies of Magassa's five children _ the youngest just an infant _ were then taken to a Muslim cemetery in New Jersey for burial; The bodies of Soumare's four children _ from 7 months to 7 years old _ and wife will be flown back to Mali, the victims' homeland.

Hospital officials said the three surviving fire victims were improving.

The condition of 6-year-old Kadiatou Magassa was upgraded to good on Monday. Five-year-old Hatouma Magassa and Assia Magassa, 23, were upgraded to fair condition.

Seventeen of the home's 22 residents were children.

The immigration status of the surviving family members has emerged as a potential problem. Rep. Jose Serrano said it was not yet clear whether some family members would be allowed to go to Mali for the burials and then return to the U.S.

``We have some members of the family who may be here undocumented,'' said Serrano, who was trying to work things out with the State Department.