Funeral services were held Monday for nine children and three adults who died in a Philadelphia fire five days into the new year, the deadliest blaze in the city in more than a century.
A funeral procession on the rain-soaked streets of the city Monday morning was followed by services at Temple University's Liacouras Center, to which members of the community were invited and asked to wear white.
Those in attendance at the three-hour service listened to Bible readings, official proclamations and music. Relatives spoke about their loss and their memories of their loved ones from two microphones behind tables bearing caskets amid white flowers and large pictures of the victims.
"None of us know what to do with a funeral with 12 people," said the Reverend Dr. Alyn Waller of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. "We're in a space of grief and pain we wish on no one else."
One speaker, an aunt of the children, tearfully said she believed there was "a family reunion in heaven."
"I believe they're with their dad. I believe they're with my mother. I believe they're with my father, their uncles and aunts," she said. "The hurt is deep, but it will subside."
The victims of the January 5 fire were all on the third floor of a duplex north of the city center near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The three-story brick duplex was owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, which is the city's public housing agency and the state's biggest landlord.
Three sisters — Rosalee McDonald, Virginia Thomas and Quinsha White — and nine of their children died in the blaze, according to family members. The city last week identified the other victims as Quintien Tate-McDonald, Destiny McDonald, Dekwan Robinson, J'Kwon Robinson, Taniesha Robinson, Tiffany Robinson, Shaniece Wayne, Natasha Wayne and Janiyah Roberts. Officials did not provide their ages.
Investigators last week confirmed the fire started at a Christmas tree but stopped short of officially saying that it was sparked by a child playing with a lighter.
The blaze had been the deadliest fire in years at a U.S. residential building but was surpassed days later by a fire in a high-rise in New York City's Bronx borough that killed 17 people, including several children.