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On January 30, the cold night air on 86th Street near 20th Avenue was filled with screams of pain and keening cries of anguish.
This past Friday, these heavy sobs were replaced with silent prayers as close to 150 mourners paid their respects to the five Guatemalan immigrants killed in the raging blaze set by a drunken building tenant.
Holding flowers and flickering candles in their hands as well as their heavy hearts on their sleeves, residents — all immigrants themselves — both marked the tragedy and promised to help the struggling former tenants of 2033 86th Street, many of whom were still in need of permanent shelter and clothing.
The prayer vigil was held entirely in Spanish and sponsored by the Latin American Workers Project, the Bay Parkway group that helps day laborers find legitimate work.
The families of the victims were not in attendance. Rather, they were at a nearby church at another more intimate vigil, friends said.
Among those at the smaller vigil was Miguel Chan, a construction worker hoping for a new life for his family in America, who ended up symbolizing the horror he and the other families living in the two floors above the sushi restaurant experienced after losing their loved ones.
Chan lost his wife, Luisa, after the two of them lowered their two children to safety as the blaze erupted around them.
According to published reports, the couple put the youngest child — two month old Maria — into her baby seat and literally tossed the newborn from a third-floor window to a Good Samaritan down below. Maria reportedly suffered a fractured skull in the fall.
They also lowered their two-year-old son Josias to safety before Miguel and Luisa were separated by the flames.
“Take care of the kids,” she said as she disappeared into the smoke. Miguel managed to climb to safety. Luisa never made it out.
Paramedics rushed little Maria to Lutheran Medical Center, where she was listed in critical condition, although she is expected to recover. Josias and his father were also taken to Lutheran, where they were listed in stable condition after treatment.
One of the men who reportedly helped lower Josias to safety was Daniel Ignacio, the man who police said started the fire.
Ignacio, who lived in a second-floor apartment above the HK Tea & Sushi, admitted to dousing a roll of toilet paper in paint thinner and tossing it into a baby carriage under the stairs while he was in a drunken stupor.
He then went to bed, allowing the fire to grow in intensity and climb to the upper floors.
Ignacio — who said “demons” caused him to start the fire — was facing five counts of murder in the second degree and one count of arson. A grand jury was mulling over the evidence as this paper went to press.
Now, nearly two weeks after the tragedy, family members were still waiting to bury their dead. In fact, some of the victims haven’t been officially identified.
Funeral services, which are being provided free of charge from Coney Island Memorial Chapel on Mermaid Avenue, are expected to take place next week, but they cannot go forward until identification through DNA matching takes place, explained chapel owner Bill Lombardo.
Once everyone is positively identified, viewings for the victims will take place on the same date, said Lombardo, who is footing the bill for services and caskets, as well as ensuring that the victims get sent back to Guatemala for burial.
“This is a big community that’s been affected,” he said. “We’re expecting a lot of people to show up and pay their respects.”
Funerals are expected to be held at two churches near where the fire took place, explained Lombardo, who offered his services to families of other immigrants that died in a borough fire a few years ago. This time, family members, and local community leaders sought him out, asking for his support.
“Everyone knows that at any time, we’re here for them,” he said. “We never turn anyone down.”
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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