The fire in a Bronx apartment building on Sunday was one of the city's deadliest in decades, leaving 17 people dead from smoke inhalation and devastating a close-knit community.
As their identities were made public this week, so were their stories. Eight children were among those killed, and some families had multiple loved ones die. Officials said the victims were largely Gambian immigrants, some of whom worshipped at the same mosques and even emigrated from the same town.
The two youngest victims were Ousmane Konteh, a 2-year-old boy, and Haouwa Mahamadou, a 5-year-old girl. Her brother, 12-year-old Seydou Toure, also perished. He had attended eighth grade next door at Angelo Patri Middle School, the New York Times reported. His classmates have been mourning the loss together, writing messages on a memorial poster, lighting prayer candles, and wearing badges with Seydou's photo.
“I loved him dearly,” said the school's principal, Angel Ortega. “He always had that smile."
Two other siblings remained in critical condition, with organizers also setting up a GoFundMe for their recovery effort.
Five of the victims were from the same family. They were Haja Dukureh, 37, her husband, Haji Dukuray, 49, and their three children, Mustapha, 12, Mariam, 11, and Fatoumata, 5, the woman's uncle told the New York Post.
The uncle, whose name is also Haji Dukuray, said he had many relatives living in the building and would regularly drive there from his home in Delaware to visit. “We have faith, so we’re holding onto our faith,” Dukuray said. “We are hanging in there as much as we can. We’re supporting each other.”
The couple emigrated from Gambia over a decade ago, and all three children were born in the US, another relative, 21-year-old Hawa Dukuray, told the New York Times. The mother worked as a home health aide, and the father at a fried chicken restaurant, saving money they hoped to send back to Gambia. Living high up on the 19th floor — and without an outdoor fire escape — the family tried taking the stairs to escape the burning building, but did not make it out in time, the relative said.
Another family lost four loved ones in the fire: Fatoumata Drammeh, 50, Foutmala Drammeh, 21, Nyumaaisha Drammeh, 19, and Muhammed Drammeh, 12.
Ishak Drammeh, 57, was not home at the time of the fire that killed his wife and children. Foutmala had been studying international economics and was about to graduate college, he told the New York Times.
“She was a very good girl,” he said. “Muhammad was a good boy too. Nyumaaisha was a good girl, she finished her high school; next month she is supposed to start her college.”
Just one day before the fire, Muhammed had celebrated his 12th birthday at an indoor trampoline park. The last time Fatima, the surviving sister, saw her mother and one of her young sisters was in their apartment before her brother's party, she said.
“I just said bye to them, because we were leaving the house,” she said. “I didn’t think it would be my last time seeing them.”
Just one member of the family, 16-year-old Yagub, made it out of the fire alive. He "was the only one rescued from the building and is currently being cared for in the hospital," according to a GoFundMe for the family set up by their cousin Nhuma Darame.
The Gambian Youth Organization (GYO), a Bronx-based nonprofit supporting young members of the community, has already more than quintupled their fundraising goal, raising more than $1 million on GoFundMe to aid the victims' families.
One of the organization's volunteers, Sera Janneh, 27, also died in the fire. Despite working multiple jobs, she was highly involved in GYO, its founder Momodou Sawaneh told Gothamist, describing her as an “industrial woman" who had "such a great life in front of her."
“When I talk about her, tears come out from my eyes,” Sawaneh said. "We lost her for something that could have been prevented."
Janneh had been studying to become a social worker at Lehman College because she believed “we needed more of that in our community, especially in the African community,” her sister Mareama Janneh, 31, told the New York Times. Her younger sister "is currently intubated with hopes of recovering from her injuries," she wrote on the family's GoFundMe.
Sera's best friend, Breanna Elleston, 27, said they had loved visiting museums and attending concerts together since they first met in high school.
“Every milestone that I’ve ever had in my life, she’s always been there for me,” Elleston said. “Even if it was hard, she would drop everything and be there for me.”
Not all the victims were residents of the building; Fatoumata Tunkara, 43, and her 6-year-old son, Omar Jambang, had been there to visit a friend. Tunkara leaves behind four children, according to a GoFundMe set up by a relative.
Tunkara's eldest son, Abdullaie Chan, 19, told the New York Daily News he called his mother "more than 40 times" when he heard about the fire.
“I knew she was in that building, but I thought she got out in time,” Chan said. “She didn’t pick up the phone... I feel like she was not supposed to be there.”
Hagi Jawara was from Sierra Leone and came to the US as a refugee in the 1990s, his brother, Yusupha Jawara, told the Associated Press. It was there that he met Isatou Jabbine, a Gambian woman living in the Bronx, who he later married.
When Yusupha, who lives nearby, heard about the fire, he hurried there to help bring victims to the hospital. As the hours went by without the couple answering their phones, Yusupha grew increasingly worried. He later realized a man he'd seen on a gurney had been his brother.
“I was just helping the EMS transport one person to the hospital when I saw him — somebody similar like him — on a stretcher being brought to the ER,” he said. “At that time, I didn’t have the focus to know that it was him.”