2009-01-22 / Local & State

1,500 Mourn 7 Killed In Philadelphia House Fire

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - More than 1,500 mourners attended a seven-casket funeral service for the victims of a Dec. 26 house fire in Southwest Philadelphia.

The crowd at Saturday's fivehour service at Divine Mercy Parish included elected officials, Liberia's ambassador to the United States, and West African immigrants from around the East Coast.

The open coffins were arranged at the head of the church. In front of the tiny coffin of the youngest victim, 18- month-old Zyhire Wright-Teah, several mourners collapsed in grief as they paid their respects.

The fire broke out in a threestory brick duplex after a kerosene heater was mishandled and exploded.

Killed were Zyhire; his father, Elliott Teah, 23; Teah's sisters, Vivian, 25, and Jennifer, 17; and Zyhire's brother and sister, Ramere Wright-Dosso, 8, and Mariam Wright-Dosso, 6. Also killed was family friend Henry Gbokoloi, 54.

All the victims were of West African descent.

"We are a close-knit community and believe in extended family. So your problem is my problem,'' said Liberian-born Berma Findley or Freedom Christian Fellowship in Dover, Del.

"We do have the village concept in our society. It takes a village to raise a child,'' added Mator Kpangai, a high school principal from Providence, R.I., and interim president of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas. "When one of our family has a tragedy we have to come.''

Liberia's ambassador to the United States, Nathaniel Barnes, passed on the condolences of his government "for the deaths of these compatriots,'' and presented a $5,000 check the survivors' relief fund from Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Pointing to the caskets that held his son, daughter and grandchild, Alfred Teah said, "All these children were my treasure,'' and added that Christmas would never be the same for him.

Instead of running "helterskelter'' for gifts to buy, he said, he expects that next year, and in years to come, he will be looking for memorial flowers.

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