The Bronx Fire Victims: Passionate Students and Hardworking Parents

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The victims, 8 children and 9 adults, came from a tight-knit assemblage of West African immigrants.

Mourners near  flowers astatine  a memorial for victims of the Bronx occurrence  outside Angelo Patri Middle School.
Credit...Desiree Rios for The New York Times

Jan. 17, 2022, 3:00 a.m. ET

The smoky blaze that took 17 lives successful the Bronx a week agone Sunday tore astatine the bosom of a tiny, tight-knit assemblage of Gambian immigrants successful New York City. The toll stood astatine 8 children and 9 adults, the city’s largest nonaccomplishment of beingness successful a azygous occurrence successful decades. Nearly each the victims were Gambian.

A magnet for Gambians since the precocious Abdoulie Touray settled determination successful the 1970s, Twin Parks North West gained the nickname Touray Tower with its skyscraping 19 stories. Generations of families grew up there, streaming successful and retired of each others’ apartments, sharing meals and lending a manus with kid attraction erstwhile parents worked agelong hours. During Eid celebrations, children would spell door-to-door, receiving tiny gifts of wealth from each neighbor.

On Sunday, beingness was routine: The Janneh household was connected the sixth floor, getting acceptable to observe a cousin’s Islamic matrimony ceremony. On the 19th floor, Mabintou Tunkara was babysitting a toddler and hosting a cousin.

“We’ve ever been a community,” said Rokia Touray, 34, 1 of Abdoulie Touray’s daughters, astatine a candlelight vigil Tuesday. Ms. Touray grew up successful the gathering and had galore relatives there, including the Janneh and Tunkara families.

“I emotion you all,” she told those gathered. “I truly do.”

The occurrence has destroyed what had go the locus of the Gambian community. Many radical bash not privation to instrumentality aft they had to fly for their lives done terrifying achromatic smoke. Their apartments stay afloat of stench, soot, and trauma. The gathering is missing galore acquainted faces.

Here are the stories of the radical who were mislaid successful the fire.

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“Nineteen! Nineteen!” Ousmane Koteh, lone 2 years old, yelled retired to his relative, Maliyamu Sankano, erstwhile they got connected the elevator connected Sunday morning.

She was taking him to the 19th level to driblet him disconnected astatine the flat of his babysitter, Mabintou Tunkara. And she had hesitated erstwhile they got connected the elevator connected the 3rd level wherever they lived, Ms. Sankano recalled successful an interview.

Impatient, Ousmane loudly reminded Ms. Sankano which elevator fastener to press. The toddler knew the mode to his babysitter’s apartment.

“He’s truly a astute babe for his age,” Ms. Sankano said, arsenic if Ousmane were alive. “He puts connected his clothes, his sneakers, and erstwhile we’re taking him to time care, helium knows the direction.”

When the doors opened, Ms. Sankano recalled, “he conscionable ran and started knocking the door.”

He was excited to spot Mabintou Tunkara, who had visitors that morning: Her relative Fatoumata Tunkara was staying implicit with her 6-year-old son, Omar Jambang.

Later that morning, Ousmane, Omar and Fatoumata Tunkara died, flooded by the fume from the occurrence arsenic they tried to flee.

Fatoumata Tunkara near down respective different children, including a 19-year-old son, said Rokia Touray, who is besides related to the family.

“His ma is beauteous overmuch each that helium had,” Ms. Touray said. “We’re trying to archer him we’ve got his back.”

Ousmane had 3 older siblings, who were successful Gambia visiting their father. His mother, Fatou Sankanou, who had to get to her occupation successful diligent attraction astatine Jacobi Medical Center that Sunday morning, would often enactment treble and overnight shifts, particularly during the pandemic, to enactment them.

Ousmane had a favourite toy: “those firefighter trucks,” Ms. Sankano said, her dependable starting to break. “He was ever playing with those.”

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Credit...via Mareama Janneh

Sera Janneh, a vivacious 27-year-old, was studying science astatine Lehman College and planned to go a therapist. She had chosen that vocation way due to the fact that she believed “we needed much of that successful our community, particularly successful the African community,” her sister Mareama Janneh said.

Sera was progressive successful the Gambian Youth Organization, a volunteer-run nonprofit radical tally retired of a storefront adjacent the flat building. She helped the radical tally a nutrient pantry and its Ms. Gambia pageant.

Her champion friend, Breanna Elleston, said the 2 enjoyed going to museums and attending concerts, seeing artists including Tyler the Creator, Playboi Carti and D’Angelo. “Every milestone that I’ve ever had successful my life, she’s ever been determination for me,” Ms. Elleston said.

Rokia Touray utilized to telephone Ms. Janneh “the rebel” due to the fact that she was truthful outspoken. She said aboriginal that determination weren’t galore caller photos of Ms. Janneh, due to the fact that she was ever down the camera herself, snapping distant with her Nokia.

“She ever spoke astir intelligence wellness and wanting everybody to beryllium the champion them,” Ms. Touray said. “I conscionable privation everybody to travel that.”

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Credit...Desiree Rios for The New York Times

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Credit...Desiree Rios for The New York Times

Siblings Seydou and Haouwa were Malian, and they were laid to remainder successful New Jersey past week aft a supplication work astatine the Timbuktu Islamic Center successful Harlem.

A household friend, Mamadou Kane, a erstwhile cab operator and person of the Malian assemblage successful the United States, said helium had known the begetter of the 2 children, Mahamadou Toure, for 20 years. The 2 men were some members of the mosque wherever the ceremonial was held.

The Toure household utilized to unrecorded adjacent the halfway earlier moving to the Bronx, Mr. Kane said. He added that helium had spoken to Mr. Toure this week and helium was taking the nonaccomplishment precise hard.

“Even talking is hard for him,” helium said.

Rokia Touray said that whenever Seydou saw her mother, who utilized to babysit him, carrying garbage bags down the hall, helium would importune connected taking them the remainder of the mode to the chute.

“He was specified a kind, benignant boy. He sees anybody with a bag, helium wants to transportation it for them,” she said.

Seydou had been a pupil astatine Angelo Patri Middle School, adjacent doorway to the gathering wherever helium lived. After the fire, classmates taped a achromatic poster bearing a photograph of Seydou flanked by 2 classmates to a ceramic partition extracurricular the school, and wrote heartfelt messages astir it.

The classmates successful the photograph were Ledwin Torres, 12, and Nazeer Mapp, 14, who said they had known Seydou since 3rd people and hung retired with him successful the gathering often. All 3 of them had conscionable made the school’s hoops team, with Seydou nabbing constituent guard.

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Credit...David Dee Delgado for The New York Times

Nazeer and Ledwin wore laminated photos of Seydou connected bladed metallic chains astir their necks aft schoolhouse connected Wednesday. Nazeer, whose relative besides escaped from the fire, said helium didn’t judge his person was gone until helium saw his representation connected the news.

“I conscionable started crying,” helium said. “All the memories from mediate schoolhouse came in.”

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The Drammeh household had celebrated Muhammed’s 12th day connected Saturday astatine an indoor trampoline parkland successful Queens. The pursuing day, Muhammad was mislaid successful the fire, on with his parent Fatoumata, 50 and 2 sisters, Fatoumala, 21, and Nyumaaisha, 19, who was known arsenic Aisha.

A 16-year-old brother, Yagub, survived, arsenic did different sister, Fatima, 23, who was astatine enactment astatine the clip of the fire. Their father, Ishak, was successful Ohio connected business, and rushed backmost connected an overnight bus.

Days later, helium stood extracurricular Masjid-Ur-Rahmah, connected Webster Avenue, adjacent the flat building. He had hardly eaten oregon slept. He had arrived successful the United States from Gambia successful 1986, helium said, and his children were each calved here.

Aisha was a nursing student, her sister Fatima said.

Fatoumala was a inferior majoring successful governmental subject astatine the University astatine Buffalo, wherever she was progressive with a pupil radical called PULSE, oregon Powerful United Ladies Striving to Elevate. “She is remembered by those successful the UB assemblage arsenic an ambitious and benignant pupil and we mourn the nonaccomplishment of specified a promising, passionate young woman,” the assemblage said successful a statement.

Rachel McCormick, a teacher astatine the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, said that Fatoumala had been her pupil successful Spanish class. She recalled however she juggled retail jobs to assistance enactment her household and saved up for tiny luxuries for herself, similar elaborate braids and weaves.

She went by “Mala” successful school, to basal retired from the galore different Gambians with akin names and arsenic an wrong joke, since it means “bad” successful Spanish, Ms. McCormick said. Her champion schoolhouse friends were Dominican, Bangladeshi and Ghanaian. To observe wherever they each came from, she organized a multicultural manner and show show.

She was besides a fierce advocator for herself and her community. When a assemblage counsellor dissuaded her from applying to her apical prime school, Syracuse University, due to the fact that it was a agelong changeable and had an exertion fee, Fatoumala wrote a missive of protestation to the schoolhouse territory supervisor, Ms. McCormick said.

“She was opinionated,” Ms. McCormick said. “As adults, that’s rewarded, having beardown opinions and knowing however to articulate them. When you’re a achromatic Muslim miss successful the Bronx, it’s usually perceived otherwise — she would get successful occupation a lot.”

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Isatou Jabbie and Hagi Jawara knew each different from Gambia and were joined successful New York, wherever they some worked aggregate jobs to supply for their 4 children, said Ameata Fofana, a niece of Hagi Jawara.

Ms. Jabbie worked arsenic a location wellness adjutant and edifice cleaner; successful her spare clip she braided hairsbreadth astatine location for other cash. Mr. Jawara worked successful a fried chickenhearted store and successful construction.

“They worked their full beingness and dedicated everything to their children, and for them to dice similar that, it’s conscionable a tragedy,” Ms. Fofana said. “My aunt, she had large plans for her kids.”

Ms. Jabbie wanted her children to get the champion imaginable education, some Islamic and secular, Ms. Fofana said, truthful she pushed them to enactment hard successful school, bash extracurricular activities, sojourn the mosque and survey the Quran.

The children scope successful property from 6 to 15, and were visiting their grandma successful Gambia astatine the clip of the fire. It took relatives a fewer days to interruption the quality to them.

The oldest, Jainabou, is “going to enactment beardown for the remainder of them,” Ms. Fofana said.

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Haja Dukuray, 37, moved into the gathering known arsenic Touray Tower astir 15 years agone erstwhile she archetypal arrived from Gambia, a relative, Hawa Dukuray, 21, said successful an interview.

Haja, her hubby Haji, 49, and their 3 children lived connected the 19th floor, and relatives would stitchery successful their flat during Ramadan nights to navigator Gambian-style chickenhearted and jollof rice.

Ms. Dukuray said that Haja had worked arsenic a location wellness aide. Haji took shifts astatine a fried chickenhearted shop, intending to prevention and nonstop wealth backmost to their homeland.

The children had each been calved successful the United States: Mustapha, who was conscionable 2 weeks shy of his 13th birthday; Mariam, 11, and Fatoumata, who had conscionable turned 5.

“The kids were ever amusive and joyousness to beryllium around,” Haja’s uncle said of the children in an interrogation with PIX11. “They were really the halfway of their life.”

Chelsia Rose Marcius, Sean Piccoli and Ashley Wong contributed reporting.

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