Sad litany of loss: The 17 victims of the devastating Bronx building fire were brothers, sisters, parents

·4 min read

The 17 Bronx residents killed by the deadliest New York City fire in three decades were many things before their lives were cut tragically short: Young and old. Immigrants from a small village in Gambia, another generation born in the United States.

Brothers, uncles, sisters, parents. All gone.

The smallest victim was 2-year-old Ousmane Konteh, who was visiting an apartment on the top floor of the 19-story Bronx high-rise on E. 181st St. near Tiebout Ave. with an aunt when the smoky blaze broke out this past Sunday.

His aunt, Fatoumata Tunkara, attempted to flee the flames and thick smoke by heading down the staircase to safety but was instead killed along with Ousmane and her own 6-year-old son.

“We are heartbroken at the moment,” said Yahya Sankanu, who is an uncle of little Ousmane and a cousin of Tunkara. “We don’t know what to do.”

Fatoumata Tunkara, 43, died with her little boy Omar Jambang and her nephew, leaving behind her four other kids ages 9 to 19. Tunkara was just visiting a friend in the building with her son and nephew in tow when they were trapped by the fire and killed.

Sankanu and his sister Amie were home in their native Gambia when the fatal fire tore through the building. Amie lived in the building that burned and doesn’t know if her apartment is still inhabitable.

“This is so sad,” said Amie Sankanu, beginning to sob over her lost relatives.

Ousmane’s mother was at work when the lethal fire tore through the Twin Parks North West building, and she later arrived at the fire scene to find the youngest of her four kids gone.

The Dukuray family, immigrants from Gambia, perished together in the tragedy: Both parents and their three kids. They were identified as patriarch Haji, 49, and his wife Haja, 37, along with 12-year-old Mustapha, 11-year-old Miriam and their 5-year-old sibling Fatoumata.

The fire also claimed four members of another family, a mother and three of her kids. Fatoumata Drammeh, 50, died alongside daughter Fatoumala, 21, and Aisha, 19, as well as 12-year-old son Muhummed — who celebrated his last birthday just the day before the raging fire.

Family patriarch Ishak Drummond, who had yet to see the bodies of his loved ones Wednesday, recalled his last phone call with the youngster from his job in Ohio as family members laughed in the background.

Drummond asked if Muhammed wanted him to come home for the party.

“He said, ‘That’s OK, Daddy, it’s OK, all you have to do is pray for us,’” the father recalled.

Drummond said his 19-year-old son Jacob, who escaped the flames, was recovering at a local hospital.

“They took a tube out of his mouth and he is talking,” he said. “He is doing better.”

A married couple was also among the dead, with Hagi Jawara, 47, and his wife Isatou Jabbie, 31, overwhelmed by the choking smoke in an 18th-story stairwell, according to the husband’s brother.

Yusupha Jawara recalled following his brother from Banjul, the capital of their native Gambia, to the U.S. back in 2006. He last saw his sibling receiving CPR outside the building, although it took him a day to realize the familiar face actually belonged to Hagi.

The sibling scoured local hospitals and dialed government agencies after seeing the victim “with some features that looked like my brother” only to finally learn it was Hagi — with his dying wife receiving aid nearby.

Asked Wednesday if he was still crying, Yusupha replied simply, “I don’t know when I’m going to stop.”

Sera Janneh, who fled the flames with her sister and father from their sixth-floor apartment, was killed when she became separated from her dad as the lights in the building went out and the dark smoke enveloped them. Janneh, 27, died after making it down to the fourth floor.

“She was just a very positive, uplifting, generous person,” her best friend Breanna Elleston recalled Wednesday. “Always looking out for people over herself ... She was a really, really good friend.”

Elleston began crying as she pondered attending the funeral of her friend for life.

“She’s never going to be there for me again,” she said. “She was just such a special person in my life and there is nobody on this planet like her at all.”

The last two victims were among the youngest: Seydou Toure, 12, and Haouwa Mahamadou, his 5-year-old sister. Both were remembered Wednesday at the first funeral for the 17 victims, with family and friends spilling onto the street outside a Harlem mosque for the service.

A family member said their mother left them with an adult relative in their apartment for five minutes to buy a loaf of bread, with the blaze erupting in an adjoining second-floor duplex before she could return.

Her two other children were hospitalized along with the uncle who was inside the apartment when the fire began, the relative said before the victims were taken for burial at a Muslim cemetery in New Jersey.


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