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Bronx fire victims' names released as community brings in donations

“It could be any of us,” said Leslie Ottley of Staten Island, who dropped off socks and underwear she had bought at Target.

Donated toys, toiletries, clothes, linens and food piled up Dec. 30, 2017, in a Bronx school gymnasium to help families left homeless in New York City's deadliest fire in more than a quarter century. (Credit: Newsday / Matthew Chayes)

The NYPD released the names of all 12 people killed in Thursday’s fire in the Bronx as donations of toys, toiletries, clothes, linens and nonperishable food piled up in a school gymnasium Saturday to help those left homeless by New York City’s deadliest fire in more than a quarter century.

Late Saturday, the NYPD said the remaining victims were: Gabriel Yaw Sarkookie, 48; Justice Opoku, 54; Solomon Donkor, 49; Hannah Donkor, 17; and William Donkor, a boy who police said could be as young as 12.

Another victim, Emmanuel Mensah, 26, an Army National Guardsman home for the holidays, lost his life trying to rescue other people in the apartment building. Also dead were four members of the same family: Karen Stewart Francis, 37; her children, Charmela Francis, 7, and Kylie Francis, 2; and her niece, Shawntay Young, 19. Maria Batiz, 58, died while baby-sitting her 7-month-old granddaughter Amora Batiz, who also perished.

Just blocks from the deadly fire — caused by a 3-year-old boy playing with the burners of a gas stove — strangers came from across the city to drop off donations.

“By the grace of God go I,” said Leslie Ottley, 51, of Staten Island, with a bag of packaged socks and underwear she had just bought at a Target store. “It could be any of us. I know people would do it for me.”

By early Saturday afternoon, the NYPD and Red Cross were still accepting donations from Good Samaritans like Ottley, but for the time being only outside the doors so as not to crowd the gym.

Ottley, a New York City Transit bus dispatcher, knows no one in the Bronx and had no business in the borough. But on Saturday morning, she drove in the snow, handed two police officers outside the school a plastic bag of colorful staples for boys and girls, and drove back to Staten Island.

Pausing blocks from the burned-out apartment building on Prospect Avenue, Ottley said she was especially struck by the heartbreaking tragedy and how it may haunt the boy’s family.

“What really moved me was that it turned out to be a little boy, just being a kid, that caused so much,” Ottley said. “For his mom and himself, just going through life, from here on out, that’s something that’s going to follow him. His mom is probably feeling guilty.”

Thursday’s fire, which killed eight adults and four children, started in the first-floor kitchen where the boy’s family lived. The boy screamed; his mother, in another room, grabbed him and her 2-year-old son and fled. The three survived but didn’t close the apartment door, allowing the fire to spread to a stairwell like a “chimney” through the rest of the five-story building, the FDNY said.

The drive was organized by the Church of St. Martin of Tours, a Catholic church in the neighborhood. Church secretary Martha Rodriguez, 48, of Parkchester, said that hundreds of people had dropped off donations after just a few hours. The drive continues from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday at P.S. 51’s gymnasium, 2239 Crotona Ave.

Kenneth Gorman, a captain with the NYPD Community Affairs Bureau, said that the department planned to bring fire victims to the gym to walk through the donated items and pick what they needed.

With the doors shut temporarily to organize donations, churchgoer Maria Caballo, 55, stood over piles of clothing, sorting items by gender and age.

“This is our community,” she said. “We need to help the needy.”


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