700 attend funeral for five victims of house fire 2 women and 3 children killed in Jan. 14 blaze in Northwest Baltimore

January 21, 1998|By Jamie Smith | Jamie Smith,SUN STAFF

In the packed Greater Bethlehem Temple church in Baltimore County, some sang. Some praised the Lord. And some wept.

Facing the crowd were five caskets -- three of them tiny, white and adorned with small teddy bears.

But ministers remembering the two women and three children killed in a Northwest Baltimore house fire Jan. 14 -- a blaze that police are investigating as a possible arson -- told mourners it was not God who caused their deaths.

"Let us not indict God for anything like this," said Elder George Hylton, an associate minister at the church. "It is the devil who comes to kill, to steal and to destroy."

It was an emotional afternoon at the funeral yesterday for 37-year-old Francine Roy, her three children -- ages 22 months, 3 and 4 -- and her 20-year-old niece, Juanita Roy.

Some family members wailed with sorrow as a reader intoned, "The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away." Others sat stoically. But most were brought to their feet by rousing spirituals and speeches that emphasized the comfort of faith.

"When you pass through the fire, when you pass through the flood, I know it looks dark right now, but the God of heaven still rules," said Bishop James Nelson Sr., pastor of the church.

Lewis Saunders, 61, half-uncle of Francine Roy, listened with approval. Afterward, standing outside near the three hearses waiting to take his relatives away, he sighed.

"It's a great send-off," he said.

What led to the funeral, however, was foremost in his mind. Fire officials ruled last week that the blaze that killed his family members in the 5200 block of Norwood Ave. was intentionally set.

Saunders would not comment on who he thought caused the fire, but he said Juanita Roy had apparently gotten into a fight shortly before she died in the blaze.

"It's sad, it's sad, absolutely sad that things like this happen in the community," he said. "We'll find [the perpetrator]. Justice will be done."

Yesterday, however, comfort -- not justice -- was offered.

The church, which seats 700, was filled by family members, friends and many people who didn't know the victims but wanted to attend.

"It goes to show that people respond to tragedy in the community," said Hylton. "People's hearts are touched."

Last year, Pastor Lloyd Fox came to the city from his Virginia church for the funeral of Francine Roy's father, B. James Roy, "and now, I'm back again," he said. "[But] I want you to know, there is triumph in tragedy."

Some thought the uplifting nature of the service -- which at times hardly seemed like a funeral -- was a way to overcome the grief.

"When death strikes a family, everyone's down," said Hylton. "They don't need to come to a place that promotes that same feeling. You got to rise up out of it."

Pub Date: 1/21/98

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