Mourners in Philadelphia gathered Monday to remember 12 people, including nine children, who died in a fire that erupted in the row house where they lived this month.
The service at the Temple University’s Liacouras Center followed a procession through the city Monday morning.
“None of us know what to do with a funeral with 12 people,” said the Rev. Alyn Waller of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. “We’re in a space of grief and pain we wish on no one else.”
Killed in the Jan. 5 fire in the city’s Fairmount section were three adults — Rosalee McDonald, Virginia Thomas and Quinsha White — and nine children.
The children have been identified as: Dekwan Robinson, Destiny McDonald, Janiyah Roberts, J’Kwan Robinson, Natasha Wayne, Quientien Tate-McDonald, Shaniece Wayne, Taniesha Robinson and Tiffany Robinson.
The fire in the duplex, which is owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, began around 6:30 p.m. Officials have said it was caused by a lighter being used on a Christmas tree.
“I ask God. I don’t understand,” said Sallie Thomas, an aunt of the victims. “But I have to trust God. Because he’s the only one at this point that can heal the hurt.”
The family invited the public to attend Monday’s funeral, saying in a statement that it was difficult to express their gratitude to the community for its support after the blaze, NBC Philadelphia reported.
Mayor Jim Kenney, who was among those who attended, said in a statement that “the entire city has been in mourning for each of the young mothers and children lost.”
There were six smoke detectors that either were not attached or were missing batteries, the fire commissioner has said. A smoke alarm in a shared basement activated, but it went off late, he said.
Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said last week that investigators believe the fire began when a Christmas tree was ignited with a lighter that was found nearby.
A search warrant application filed in the investigation suggested that the cause may have been a child playing with a lighter, but Thiel stopped short in a briefing last week of saying a child started the fire.
“There are no words to express the love and gratitude our family holds in our hearts for our community. We are beyond moved by the outpouring of love and support,” the family said in a written statement announcing the funeral services, NBC Philadelphia reported.
Phil Helsel is a reporter for NBC News.