They prayed together at the same mosques and attended the same schools; pooled resources when neighbors were struggling, cooked together, ate together, watched each other’s children.
When Sunday’s fire sent smoke flooding through the Twin Parks North West high-rise, some of those same families who’d lived side by side for years, died together as well — devastating friends and loved ones within the 19-story building that is the heart of the Bronx’s Gambian community.
Five members of one single family were killed. A couple left behind four orphaned children. In the thick smoke, a community organizer tried to flee the building with her family, but got separated in the stairwell and never made it out.
In total, seventeen people, ranging in age from two to 50, all died of smoke inhalation, authorities said. Of the fourteen people identified by the city so far, spread out over at least four families, eleven of the victims were from Gambia, according to the Gambian ministry of foreign affairs.
Outside the building Tuesday night, friends and neighbors gathered for a vigil, lighting candles and praying in the frigid winter air.
“We are all hurt,” said neighbor Ramatu Ahmed. “By the time you stop your conversation you end up crying. Seventeen people, it’s just too much.”
Here’s what we know about the victims so far:
The Jawara Family
Hagi Jawara worked in construction and at a fried chicken restaurant, relatives said. His wife, Isatou Jabbie was a home health aide, though she’d taken a break during COVID-19. Both of them died in the fire. They left behind four children between the ages of six and 16, who were in Gambia living with their grandparents for several months, according to Yusupha Jawara, Haji’s brother. It’s not clear yet who will take care of their children long term, he said.
“We have put all our faith in God,” said Jawara, who was praying at the Masjid-uh-Rahaman mosque Tuesday night, down the street from the site of the fire. “It’s God that decides that that’s the way they died. There’s nothing you can do, only to rally again together and support each other.”
A fundraising campaign started by the couple’s nephew, and independently verified by GoFundMe, has raised $66,000.
The Dukuray Family
Residents of the building recalled the Dukuray family as fixtures of the community. Haja Dukuray hosted weekly dinners for Gambian women in the building, and helped organize fundraisers for families in need. Her husband, Haji Dukuray, was remembered as a devoted family man who worked at a fried chicken restaurant.
The couple died alongside their three children: 13-year-old son Mustapha and daughters, Mariam, 10, and Fatoumata, 6.
“Anytime you see Haji, you see him with his family,” Mohamed Trawalley, a friend who lived in the building, said on Tuesday. “They’re going from somewhere or they’re coming from somewhere altogether. You could hardly see them separated.”
He paused, “I’m not surprised they all died together, because they were all together anyway when they were living.”
An uncle of the deceased, also named Haji Dukuray, mourned the loss of his five family members at the Masjid-Ur-Rahmah mosque on Tuesday evening. The family all belonged to the Soninque tribe from Gambia and countless relatives had passed through the 181st building over the years, Dukuray said. It was the building he first listed as his legal address when he immigrated to the country three decades ago. When Dukuray got word of the location of the fire on Sunday, he said his heart stopped.
“Oh my God no,” he said. “Those are my people. My people live in that building.”
The Tunkara Family
Fatoumata Tunkara didn’t live in the building anymore. The 42-year-old, along with her six-year-old son, Omar Jambang, had moved out a few months before the fatal fire. But on Sunday, Tunkara dropped Omar off at a babysitter’s home on the 19th floor, according to her cousin, Ansumana Susso.
Both mother and son died in the building, after trying to escape from a smoke-filled stairway, according to Susso, who was raising funds for the family. They are survived by her ex-husband and four other children, aged 9 through 19.
“I’m trying to stay strong for my nephew and nieces,” Susso said, “But it’s a difficult pain.”
Janneh was an active member of the Gambian Youth Organization, which ran a food pantry and a youth mentoring program a few blocks from the building. Community members said she tried to escape her through the stairwell but was separated from other family members. She was remembered as a tireless worker who juggled multiple jobs, but still found time to volunteer with the GYO. She helped organize the group’s annual cultural pageant, where members of different Gambian tribes performed and competed.
“When I talk about her, tears come out from my eyes,” said Momodou Sawaneh, the founder of the Gambian Youth Organization. He described her as an, “industrial woman, Somebody who has such a great life in front of her. We lost her for something that could have been prevented.”
The Drammeh Family
Fatoumata Drammeh, 50, and and three of her children perished in the building; 21-year-old Fatoumala Drammeh, 19-year-old Nyumaaisha Drammeh and 12-year-old son Muhammed Drammeh, according a cousin Nhuma Darame, who created the fundraising campaign but couldn’t be reached for further comment. The campaign was verified independently by GoFundMe, a spokesperson said. The family was survived by 23-year-old Fatima Drammeh, according to her cousin, and her 16-year-old brother, Yagub Drammeh was still in the hospital.
Three more children, 2-year-old Ousmane Konteh, 12-year-old Seydou Toure and 5-year-old Haouwa Mahamadou also perished in the smoke. More information about them was not available immediately.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Jake Offenhartz contributed reporting.
(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)