Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church held a funeral service at the Liacouras Center this morning, where hundreds gathered to honor the lives and legacies of the 12 victims who died in a Fairmount rowhouse fire earlier this month.
The victims included nine children and three adults: Destiny McDonald, Rosalee McDonald, Quintien Tate-McDonald, Janiyah Roberts, Dekwan Robinson, J’Kwan Robinson, Taniesha Robinson, Tiffany Robinson, Virginia Thomas, Natasha Wayne, Quinsha White and Shaniece Wayne, according to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Medical Examiner’s Office.
On Jan. 5, a three-story residential building on 23rd Street near Ogden caught fire, one of the nation’s deadliest residential fires in decades, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Investigators believe the fire began when a 5-year-old, who survived the blaze, accidentally lit a Christmas tree while playing with a lighter, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The Philadelphia Fire Department discovered six inoperable or disabled smoke detectors in the unit where the fire occurred.
The funeral procession, which included 12 hearse vehicles carrying the caskets of each victim, arrived at the Liacouras Center just after 7 a.m., FOX 29 reported.
The 12 caskets were placed next to pictures of the victims below the stage and covered in flowers. Most attendees wore white, per a request from the victims’ families.
Rev. Kev Murphy began the service by reading several Bible passages from Psalms as members of the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church began their procession, sitting on the floor seats of the Liacouras Center.
Rev. Alyn E. Waller then took the stage singing the hymn “How Great is Our God.” He thanked city officials in attendance, including those from the Philadelphia Fire Department and The School District of Philadelphia.
“In these moments we aren’t North Philly or South Philly,” Waller said. “We are Philadelphians. We are here to love on our brothers and sisters.”
Temple University President Jason Wingard offered condolences to the victims’ families on behalf of Temple’s Board of Trustees and affirmed the university’s support of the victims’ families.
“Temple University is just one of the many organizations across the city, across the state and the country that care deeply and stand ready to assist you,” Wingard said.
The service proceeded with a series of remarks from teachers, friends and families of the victims.
Howard Robinson, father of J’Kwan, Dekwan, Taniesha and Tiffany Robinson, saw his children a day before the fire for the first time since being hospitalized for a heart operation. He urged attendees not to take their loved ones for granted.
“If you’ve got loved ones in this room, just hug them and tell them that you love them because you never know when that last day is going to come,” Robinson said.
Patty Jackson, a radio host on 103.5 WDAS-FM, read letters of support from city and state politicians, including Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and State Sen. Sharif Street. Jackson also read an obituary for each victim.
The service concluded with Waller urging the city to come together to support the family and seek counseling resources for those struggling with grief.
Leroy Miles, 55, was happy to see the large turnout for the service and the support the family has received from the city.
“This was a display of Philadelphia and what it really means to be the City of Brotherly Love,” Miles said.
Miles, who is also a member of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, is working to ensure the victims’ families have the resources they need to grieve.
“I do want to allow myself, as best I can, to experience what the family is experiencing and there’s no way I can do that, but at the very least I want to be very present with them from a position of empathy,” he said.
Mark Vitvitsky, principal of Bache-Martin Elementary School, remembers Quinsha McDonald, Destiny McDonald and Quientien Tate-McDonald for the positive impact they had on their school communities.
“They made those around them better,” Vitvitsky said. “They made those around them want to be better for others.”