Family members of the five people who died in a Minneapolis high-rise apartment fire came together for the first time Thursday to comfort one another and to connect with those who stepped forward to help them in the face of tragedy.
Imam Sharif Abdirahman Mohamed opened the conference room and offices of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center mosque for families to meet with community leaders and representatives of aid organizations.
In the week since the fire, the Cedar-Riverside community has been the heart of an outpouring of support and fundraising by mosque leaders, the People’s Center Clinics & Services, the Red Cross and others, including staff from U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s office. Thursday’s gathering was an opportunity to divvy up the nearly $94,000 raised to help with funeral costs and other expenses. And, because more help is needed, fundraising will continue through the end of the year.
“This is the first big step of the process,” said Mohamed, who welcomed and comforted families as they trickled in to his mosque, some of them for the first time. “We’re sorry for their loss but we want them to know that we are here for them.”
The mosque was a fitting place to grieve and begin healing for the families whose lives are now forever entangled. In 2014, Dar Al-Hijrah mosque was heavily damaged by a large apartment-building fire, which claimed the lives of three people and severely injured several others.
“This tragedy reminds us of the pain we felt and it reminds us of how people need one another,” said Wali Dirie, executive director of the mosque and one of the lead organizers of the fundraiser. “We’re doing exactly what people did for us and as a mosque, and it’s our duty to give back to the community.”
The Nov. 27 fire killed Amatalah Adam, 79; Maryan Mohamud, 69; Nadifa Mohamud (no relation to Maryan), 67; Jerome Stuart, 59; and Tyler Scott Baron, 32. All died of smoke inhalation.
Although investigators listed multiple contributing factors, it’s unclear what exactly caused the unintentional fire, which began on the 14th floor, and spread smoke through much of the 25-story public-housing high-rise on a frigid morning.
The fire also resulted in renewed calls for greater fire-prevention efforts in public housing units. The tower had partial sprinkler coverage on the main floor and lower mechanical rooms but none on the 14th floor. It was built before the fire code required sprinkler systems in high-rises, government officials have said.
People’s Center Clinics & Services, which serves predominantly African immigrant families, raised $80,000 through an online fundraiser. Meanwhile, UCare and Dar Al-Hijrah collected $11,000 to support the cause. Leaders of a popular Facebook group called “SNABPI,” which represents Somali professionals and businesses across North America, contributed $2,500.
“We want to be really complete and whole and caring for everyone, but we want to be equitable, too,” said Paula Guinn, chief advancement officer for People’s Center Clinics & Services, which is responsible for disbursing the money. “These are patients that we see, and one of the deceased was one of our patients.”
Relatives of Stuart, who was also known as “Jay,” said they were thankful for the support and comfort they received from the Somali community and Red Cross.
“It makes me feel like Jay was in a good community of people that accepted him,” said Stuart’s aunt Joannie Franks, who came to the mosque with her son Michael Franks. “Jay could be anybody’s friend.”
Yasin Yusuf lost his wife, Adam, in the fire. He said connecting with the other families also gave him solace. Yusuf was at work when the building caught fire and didn’t find out about his wife’s fate until hours later.
“My wife was loved by everyone including her neighbors,” Yusuf said. “She was a wonderful person.”