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Hundreds mourn mom, boy who died in Hempstead apartment fire

Executive director of Strong, Rahsmia Zatar, left, hugs

Executive director of Strong, Rahsmia Zatar, left, hugs Anna Ramirez whose grandson Fernando and his mother Guadalupe, died in an apartment complex fire Saturday. (Feb. 17, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

Hundreds of friends and family bid farewell Sunday to the mother and 8-year-old son who died last week from a fire in their Hempstead Village apartment, including the little boy's father, who sobbed at his casket.

Guadalupe Ramirez, 37, and Fernando Rodriguez, 8, will be buried at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale on Tuesday after the community rallied to support the family.

Ramirez died Feb. 10, a day after the blaze broke out in her one-bedroom third-floor apartment at 17 St. Paul's Rd. North. Fernando died in the fire. She leaves a 6-year-old daughter, Abby, and a 16-year-old son, Kenny Arias.

Toward the conclusion of the wake at Hempstead Funeral Home, when the crowd had already gone, Fernando's father, Rafael Garcia Rodriguez, 37, of Hempstead, walked into the room where his son and Ramirez lay. She was in an open, light-purple coffin and his son in a closed white one.

He knelt down to say goodbye to Ramirez, then got up and knelt beside his son's coffin and stretched out his hand to touch it. He then stood, stepped back and began to sob.

"I can't believe this happened," Rodriguez said in Spanish afterward, adding that the last time he saw his son was the day before the fire. "He was such a loving boy. He always told me he wanted to be a doctor. To help others."

Family friends said Kenny Arias, the little boy's older brother, was staying at a friend's house the day the fire broke out and is suffering from survivor's guilt because he was not at home. He declined to talk Sunday.

Ramirez's mother, Ana, lives with her 23-year-old daughter in Hempstead. She said she would care for the two surviving grandchildren. Rodriguez is not able to care for his daughter financially and said he feels she would be better off with her grandmother.

Until Thursday, the family had no idea how they were going to pay the thousands of dollars needed to cover funeral expenses.

But community activist Sergio Argueta, who founded the nonprofit STRONG Youth Inc., which works to divert young people from street gangs, held a news conference asking for donations after Hempstead High School guidance counselors said the family needed help.

Rahsmia Zatar, executive director of the organization, praised the response from the community and businesses.

"Within 48 hours we were able to raise about $10,000," she said. "People have been amazing. Both of the [surviving] kids, as you can imagine, have been really struggling. . . . This is just the beginning of a very long road."

Ana Ramirez, 53, said the family is trying to figure how they are going live in a one-bedroom apartment with her daughter, who is married with a toddler.

"I just ask God to help me take care of these children," she said. They [Ramirez and Fernando] are always going to be in my heart and in my mind. In me."

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