FORDHAM HEIGHTS, the Bronx — Two days after Sunday’s tragic fire in the Bronx took the lives of at least 17 people, including eight children, a relative of five of those victims spoke with the PIX11 Morning News.
Haji Dukuray identified those victims as his niece, Haja Dukureh, 37, along with her husband, also named Haji Dukuray, 49, and their three children, Mustapha Dukureh, 12, Mariam Dukureh, 11, and Fatoumata Dukureh, 6.
Many of the victims, including this family, were originally from the same small town in the small West African country of Gambia.
Dukuray said his niece had been in the U.S. for about 15 years, living that entire time in the Bronx building on East 181st Street where she and her family perished.
Remembering the children, Dukuray said they were always a joy to be around and were the center of their parents’ lives.
The mother, Haja, was a stay-at-home mom who dedicated her life to taking care of her three kids, he said.
“The son, Mustapha, was just an amazing boy and almost all the neighbors know him,” Dukuray said. “I’m hearing stories about him right now, going around knocking on doors during the fire to help people,” he added.
He shared that his niece and her family lived on the 19th floor, the top floor of the building.
According to Dukuray, he didn’t really ever hear of the family having any major complaints about the building or the landlord.
“When I first received the call and I was told that the fire was on the third floor, I said, ‘Okay, it’s unfortunate but…they must be safe’,” Dukuray shared. “So it was really shocking then, when we first received the news that they’ve confirmed two of the children have passed…We started asking about the rest and learned that the third one passed. Until yesterday, we received confirmation that both my niece and her husband also passed,” he said.
Some families of the fire victims have shown concern over being able to observe Muslim burial customs in the wake of the tragedy.
“We’re not personally going through that yet,” Dukuray said. “But we are very much concerned about that. We’re having a family meeting today,” he added.
Dukuray said that elected officials have been extremely supportive, including Mayor Eric Adams.
“The very first thing, honestly, my family is focused on is how to make sure we get the bodies, and to make sure we have them in our hands. And we can think about how we are going to bury them, whether we bury them here – maybe this will be their final resting place – or we take them to our original home back in Gambia,” Dukuray said.
He said he’s been in touch with the rest of the family back in Gambia, including his older sister, who is the mother of his deceased niece.
“It’s been tough, but we have faith on our side,” Dukuray said. “As Muslims we learn to accept such tragedies, unfortunate as it is, but they’re hanging in there.”