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Young victims of Queens fire remembered at church service

A casket is carried from the New Greater

A casket is carried from the New Greater Bethel Ministries on Jamaica Avenue in Queens on Saturday, May 6, 2017. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

Four white coffins lay before the pulpit of a Queens Village storefront church on Saturday, as nearly 1,000 people crammed inside to mourn young people killed late last month in the largest loss of life in a New York City fire in two years.

The hourslong service, at the New Greater Bethel Ministries on Jamaica Avenue, came 13 days after the two-story house fire on 208th Street. The four victims were members of the same extended family. They all lived in the same house, as did a fifth victim, a family friend.

Loved ones took turns reading from obituaries of the four — Chayce Nathaniel Lipford, 2; Maurice D.R. Matthews, 9; Jada E. Foxworth, 16; and Destiny Monet Dones, 20 — who were depicted on the funeral program with angels’ wings.

The funeral for the family friend, Melody Edwards, 17, is being held separately.

“He loved playing with the pots underneath the kitchen sink,” the family of little Chayce read from the pulpit. “At 2 years old, his favorite toy was anything with Mickey Mouse and his bicycle that he loved to ride that his Nana Debra brought him.”

Of Foxworth, the loved ones remembered her as a cheerleader, “a ray of sunshine,” a typical millennial.

“Like most teenagers,” the obituary said, “Jada loved being on her cellphone and all types of social media.”

Spider-Man swoops onto the funeral program’s spread for Maurice Matthews, 9, a bowler and a softball player. The program said he enjoyed swimming, PlayStation video games and gospel music on his laptop. “Rashawn,” the program said using his nickname, “would praise and worship God in his room all by himself.”

As for Dones, her family remembered the 20-year-old as a Martin Van Buren High School alum who doted on her baby cousins: “Destiny was young with an old soul, very wise and extremely lovable.”

Mourners included politicians, pastors and other dignitaries.

“The same God that took them, gave them to you in the first place,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said from the pulpit. “He brought ’em home now.”

“They can’t hurt them no more! They’ll be all right now!” he said.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz also lamented the loss.

“What do you say, what do you say, what do you say when lives are lost at such a young age?” Katz said.

Some mourners, dressed in all white, wore T-shirts bearing photographs of the young people: “My little angels. Gone but never forgotten.”

Ushers struggled to accommodate all the mourners, putting out folding chairs to supplement the seating in pews, directing people to aisles, the lobby, an overflow room — and to a Facebook live stream carrying the service. As the church ran low on tissues, church ladies folded paper towels to hand to mourners who teared up at the tribute.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said last week that the fire marshal’s investigation into the blaze was unfinished, and that the home lacked a smoke detector. Nigro said that early indications are that the blaze began at the home and spread to a vehicle parked in the driveway and to an adjacent home.

Firefighter Daniel Glover, an FDNY spokesman, said Saturday afternoon that there was no public update into the case.

The four were interred at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Pinelawn, where the family went after the church service.

The 2-year-old’s mother, Shanikqua Matthews, was disconsolate. “I’m lost. Why me?” she wrote in the program. “I’m going to miss letting you do whatever you want. I’m going to miss waking you up in the middle of the night to get you juice.”

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