FORDHAM HEIGHTS, the Bronx — Of the 17 confirmed deaths from Sunday’s tragic fire here, many of the victims were originally from the same small town in the small West African country of Gambia.
On Monday, members of the victims’ families were gathered together at the mosque that almost everyone in their community attends. They said that they sought solace from Allah, and from one another, as they also sought answers.
They spent the day waiting to hear from the Medical Examiner’s Office, or from any of the four area hospitals where people who were injured, some severely, had been taken after Sunday morning’s fire broke out.
Haji Dukuray said that he and his family had sought the whereabouts of his nephew — also named Haji Dukuray — and Haja Dukureh, his wife. The elder Dukuray confirmed on Monday evening that he’d gotten word from city authorities that his nephew and niece through marriage were deceased.
The couple and their children were killed in the fire.
Haji Dukuray and Haja Dukureh were 49 and 37, respectively. Their children, Mustapha Dukureh, 12, Mariam Dukureh, 11, and Fatoumata Dukureh, 6, were confirmed dead on Sunday.
“We are a closely knit community,” the couple’s uncle said, as he stood in the Ar-Rahaman mosque.
He further explained just how close everyone in the community is.
“The bulk of the members of this mosque are from the same town in Gambia,” he said.
Beginning about 40 years ago, one man from the town of Allunhare, in the sparsely populated eastern region of The Gambia, moved to 333 East 181st Street, the building where tragedy struck.
Allunhare has a population of 5,500 people, so it’s no understatement to say that everybody knows one another, as well as the fire victims.
Yusefa Jawara’s brother, Haji Jawara, 47, and sister-in-law, Asatou Jabbie, 32, were still officially missing from the fire, as of Monday evening.
Yusefa Jawara cried as he talked about how he’d made such an effort to reach them since midday on Sunday after the fire broke out.
The couple’s children, he said, were able to escape from the building, but there was no word from their parents after a day and-a-half.
“I keep calling the mom’s phone,” he said, without anyone picking up.
He said that he was worried about her children, his nieces and nephews.
“What do I tell them?” he asked.
The mosque, on Webster Avenue at Ford Street, is a block away from the scene of the blaze, and is so much the heart of the Gambian community here that Gambia’s ambassador to the U.S. visited, from Washington, D.C., on Monday afternoon.
“When this news broke in The Gambia,” Ambassador Dawda Fadera said in an interview, “the whole country’s gripped in a state of shock.”