Fatal Bronx fire: Family mourns ‘loving’ mother and her ‘energetic’ son

Fatoumata Tunkara and her 5-year-old son, Omar Jambang, were visiting the 19-story building in the Bronx where Omar was going to daycare when a fire broke out in a duplex 17 floors below.

Smoke poured from that duplex, down the hallways and up the stairwells, killing the mother and child — two of the fire’s 17 fatalities, each of whom died from smoke inhalation.

“It was kind of the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Jantae Susso, wife of Tunkara’s cousin, Ansumana Susso.

Omar was one of the youngest victims of the fire, according to a list released by the NYPD. Also among them: a 2-year-old boy and two 5-year-old girls, a family of five, and a husband and wife whose four children have been orphaned.

Many of them are immigrants from West Africa: The Gambia and Mali, according to a local imam, Musa Kabba. Others are the US-born members of West African immigrant families.

Sunday’s fire was started by an electric heater in the second-floor bedroom of the duplex apartment, which, according to a person briefed on the FDNY investigation, had been left on for days.

When the family fled into that duplex, the front door was left fully open and could not close on its own as required by New York City law, sending smoke throughout the building, the FDNY said. The stair door at 15 also did not close. Retiring department head Thomas Richardson said on Tuesday that firefighters had found several stair doors open.

The residents of the duplex, which housed eight to 12 members of a family, survived, FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer said Tuesday.

About three blocks from the building is Masjid Ar-Rahama, the local mosque where all the victims and their families worshiped, according to Musa Kabba, her imam.

Kabba said funerals would be in the United States or Africa. Under Islamic law, bodies must be cleaned and buried as soon as possible after death.

On Wednesday afternoon, worshipers paid their respects to the mourners and gave a hug to Yusupha Jawara, whose sister-in-law, Isatou Jabbie, 31, and brother Hagi Jawara, 47, were among those lost on Sunday.

Jawara and others who knew the victims sometimes spoke of the deceased in the present tense. He burst into tears as he shared what made his brother and sister-in-law “the best of relatives.”

“They’re always smiling,” Jawara said. “They don’t get angry.”

Worshipers also mourned another family, this one of five: Haji Dukuray, 49, his wife, Haja Dukureh, 37, and their three children: Mustapha, 12, Mariam, 11, and Fatoumata, 5, the imam said. All died in Sunday’s fire.

“Mustapha is a very smart boy,” Kabba said. “He came here on Saturday and Sunday to learn the religion. Now we miss him.’

Kabba said the three Dukureh children visited the mosque on Saturday.

“They’re my students,” he said. “We didn’t see them this Sunday.”

A married couple living in the building is suing the owners for at least $1 billion, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday seeking class action status.

The owners had “actual notice of faulty conditions,” while the plaintiffs and others living there had “no negligence,” allege the lawsuit, filed in the Bronx State Supreme Court, by Rosa Reyes and Felix Martinez.

The lawsuit alleges that building owners failed to ensure that the self-closing door equipment was working and that smoke detectors were functioning properly. It claims that the heat in the building was not sufficient and that smoke detectors “went off all the time”.

In response, the property group, Bronx Park Phase III Preservation, LLC, said it was “devastated” by the tragedy and “cooperating fully with the fire service and other agencies as they continue the investigation.”

Some residents are allowed back into the building. Others stay behind to mourn.

Tunkara, 44, leaves behind four children, three in the Bronx and one in her home country of The Gambia. She was divorced.

Jantae Susso, 28, of the Bronx, said Tunkara was active in the building’s tight-knit community.

“She was very kind, loving and caring,” Susso said. “She tried to help everyone.”

Tunkara grew up in The Gambia and came to the United States about 20 years ago “to build a better life for her family.”

Her surviving children in the Bronx range in age from 9 to 19; her son in the Gambia is 14 years old, Susso said.

Ansumana Susso, 34, of the Bronx, said his cousin was a cheerful spirit and that people loved being around her.

He recalled that Tunkara was a central figure in the family, helping them keep in touch on social media while being spread across two countries. She helped raise money for other family members when they needed it, he said.

She braids her hair, Ansumana Susso added.

Omar liked to play video games on his computer, including “Minecraft.” He also loved cars.

“He was very, very energetic,” said Ansumana Susso. “You’d have to fight him to get him off his iPad.”

The family is shocked by the tragedy.

“It was something that happened very quickly,” he said. “Everyone is sad.”

The family receives a lot of support from others in the Gambian community.

Ansumana Susso said he was upset about the reported problems with doors that were supposed to close automatically to contain such a fire, but that apparently didn’t happen.

“This is a complete disaster,” he said. ‘It could have been prevented. I’m very upset.’

The family says they plan to bury the remains of Tunkara and her son in The Gambia.

The family was struggling financially and the Sussos started a GoFundMe page to raise money for them.

On Tuesday, 15 victims of the fire were still in intensive care.

One of those still recovering is Aisha Janneh, whose sister Sera was killed in the fire.

Their relative Mare Janneh said Aisha, 27, is improving.

“She is doing well. She is making progress,” Mare said, adding that the family is looking forward to her release from the hospital.

“We’ll be praying soon,” Mare said.

with AP


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