They came from countries in West Africa, almost all from The Gambia, and settled in Twin Parks Towers Northeast, a 19-storey block of flats filled with working-class families from the region and Latin America.
Some of them were born here to Gambian parents, volunteered in local community groups, attended local mosques, enrolled in local schools and colleges in hopes of a future in social work, economics and justice.
Those dreams came to an end on Sunday 9 January when a fire broke out in the residential tower, killing 17 people, including some members of two families.
Fire officials said a faulty electric heater was the cause. The rapid spread of smoke through two doors left open – despite a law requiring them to close with a spring – took most of the victims’ short lives.
Eight were children; the youngest was two years old. One had celebrated its 12th birthday the day before the deadly fire.
Police identified the victims of the fire on Tuesday. These are their stories.
Sera Janneh, 27 years old
Lovers described Janneh as a devoted sister and friend — a cheerleader to those around her and “a good person to be around,” her sister Mareama told the New York Times.
Janneh studied psychology at Lehman College and wanted to be a social worker, her sister told the Times. She added that Sera was an active member of the Gambian Youth Organization, a community group located a stone’s throw from Twin Parks that serves the community’s neighborhood and West African communities at large.
Janneh collapsed trying to escape from their sixth-floor apartment. She is survived by her parents and three siblings, including the youngest, Aisha, who remains in hospital with injuries from the fire, the Janneh family wrote in a GoFundMe post.
“She was a nice woman,” her father told the Daily Mail. “She was very caring, helping – she listened to us.”
Seydou Toure, 12
Toure was an eighth grade student at Angelo Patri High School, alongside Twin Parks.
His classmate and friend of three years Chanel Álvarez, 13, described him as “a bit of a troublemaker, but a very good kid” during a nighttime vigil in front of the fire-damaged building on Tuesday.
That afternoon, more than two dozen students, along with teachers and school staff, walked to Twin Parks to pay tribute to their classmate, wear laminated badges with his photo and light candles at a makeshift memorial to Toure.
“I loved him dearly,” the school’s principal, Angel Ortega, told the New York Times. “He always had that smile.”
Haowa Mahamadou, 5
Mahamadou was one of at least four siblings caught in the Jan. 9 fire, according to an online fundraising page set up for the family by her aunt, Khadidja Timbaye.
Two other Mahamadou children were treated in critical condition, Timbaye wrote.
The Dukureh family
Haji Dukuray, 49; Haja Dukureh, 37; Mustapha Dukureh, 12; Mariam Dukureh, 11; Fatoumata Dukureh, five
Haja Dukureh, 37, and her husband, Haji Dukuray, 49, moved from The Gambia more than a decade ago and settled in the Bronx, according to Fatoumata Dukureh, Haja’s aunt. They had three children in the United States: Mustapha, 12; Mariam, 11; and Fatoumata, five, who shares a name with her mother’s aunt.
The couple worked hard to support their children — Haja as a health care worker at home and Haji at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken, Fatoumata said. They regularly sent money back to relatives in The Gambia.
The Dukurehs lived in an apartment on the 19th floor of the ill-fated 181st Street building and joined an enclave of West African immigrants.
“This is a very close-knit community. We come mainly from a town in The Gambia called Alunghare, so we’re all related,” Haji Dukureh, Haja’s uncle, told ABC News.
The family was devout Muslim, and Haji visited a nearby mosque in the morning to pray. They celebrated Ramadan with the Gambian chicken and jollof rice prepared by Haja and eaten in the evening, when Muslims break their fast during the holy month.
The children showed different personalities, said Fatoumata, Haja’s aunt. “Mustapha was very smart. He always read and helped others to read… Mariam was very sweet. She looked like her mother and always helped her mother.”
The younger Fatoumata had just celebrated a birthday. She was quiet and shy, like her father, the family told the City.
The Dukurehs were killed trying to escape from the building when it was full of smoke, family member Hawa Dukuray told the New York Times. “I’m devastated,” she said.
The Drammeh familie family
Fatoumata Drammeh, 50; Fatoumala Drammeh, 21; Nyumaaisha Drammeh, 19; Mohammed Drammeh, 12
Fatoumata Drammeh, 50, and her husband, Ishak Drammeh, 57, moved to Twin Parks from The Gambia and lived on the 15th floor for nearly 20 years.
Fatoumata and three of the couple’s children, Fatoumala, 21; Nyumaisha, 19; and Muhammed, 12, were killed in the fire. They are survived by Ishak and their daughter Fatima, 23, and another son, Yagub, 16, who remains in critical condition.
Ishak was out of town on business when the fire broke out on Sunday and the rest of the family had celebrated Mohammed’s 12th birthday at an indoor trampoline park in Queens the day before, the New York Times reported.
Nyumaaisha, who went through Aisha, was due to start university next month. Her cousin Fatma Barow, 46, said in an interview on Monday that she wanted to become a lawyer. “Aisha wanted to help others, I said, ‘Okay, I’ll pray for you,'” Barow said. “She was a beautiful soul. God, so sweet.”
Fatoumala would soon graduate from the University at Buffalo and study political science. A statement from the university released Wednesday said she was an active member of the school’s Educational Opportunity Program. She was also the vice president of Powerful United Ladies Striving for Excellence — or Pulse — an on-campus networking group for women of color, said Brian F Hamluk, the university’s vice president of Student Life.
“She was a very good girl,” her father Ishak told the New York Times. “Mohammed was also a good boy. Nyumaaisha was a good girl.”
Tawana Davis, a neighbor of the Drammehs, said she saw the family grow up and settle in the US.
“They actually lived here the whole time I lived here. I saw those children as babies. I learned [Ishak and Fatoumata] speak English,” she said, adding that Mohammed and her grandson were friends. “Everyone on the floor, we were like family.”
“They are a very nice family, very respected,” she said. “They were just the best people.”
Fatoumata Tunkara, 43, and Omar Jambang, six
A mother of five, Fatoumata “Chakou” Tunkara, 43, was visiting a friend at the Fordham Heights apartment with her six-year-old son, Omar Jambang, when the fire broke out killing the couple, according to the Daily News. . Tunkara’s family, who hails from Soma, Gambia, a town about five miles south of the Gambia River, is raising money to send her and her son’s remains to their homeland, a relative wrote in a GoFundMe.
Isatou Jabbie, 31, and Hagi Jawara, 47
Hagi Jawara worked in construction and at a fried chicken restaurant, and his wife, Isatou Jabbie, was a home helper, his brother Yusupha told the New York Post. The Gambian couple leaves behind their four children, ages six to 15, who were visiting relatives in the West African country at the time of the fire, the New York Post reports. At the end of the month, they would reunite with their parents.
Yusupha described his brother as “jovial”.
“He laughed and always laughed with everyone, never had a disagreement with anyone,” he told the Post.
Ousmane Konteh, two
The youngest of the fire victims, Ousmane Konteh, was staying at a relative’s apartment on the 19th floor when smoke engulfed the Bronx building on Sunday, a family member wrote on GoFundMe. The toddler was cared for by a relative while his mother was at work. He is survived by his mother, Fatoumata Sankanu, and three siblings.
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