`Can't stop the tears from flowing'

Local church offers `service of comfort'


East Baltimore Fire

May 23, 2007|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

The pastor read out 13 names at a "service of comfort" in his East Baltimore church -- the apparent dead and injured from yesterday's rowhouse blaze a few blocks away.

Gasps and sobs were the response from the hundreds of people gathered in sadness in the Ark Church sanctuary as the Rev. James L. Carter shared the names he had gathered -- still unconfirmed by authorities -- of those who perished in, or survived, the tragedy on Cecil Avenue.

Four of the dead were children, he said -- the youngest just 3 years old.

"We can't stop the tears from flowing," Carter told the crowd at the church in the 1200 block of E. North Ave. "It's all right to cry."

The fire was among the worst events ever to befall the struggling community near Green Mount Cemetery, where many houses sit vacant and violence is no stranger.

Carter addressed the tragedy at every juncture in the service. After hours spent counseling the bereaved and meeting with city officials yesterday, he said he had heard the fire struck so fast that there was little time to escape.

"I was told that you only had the chance to take one breath," Carter said, "to make it out of the house alive."

For those there who felt mad and forsaken, he added, "Jesus experienced those things."

Carter tried to uplift the grieving congregation and encouraged them to hold hands and sing. They sang hallelujah and then a refrain: "My heart is filled with praise."

Some knelt to pray during the two-hour service. Others hugged each other. Everyone clapped, except for the women holding babies, and some passed tissues to dab away tears.

Tavon Lopaz, a middle-aged neighbor, left midway through the service in tears.

He said he had visited almost daily the now-destroyed house and the extended family that had lived there.

"I've known them so long, they've become like family," he said. "You get attached. We'd sit and talk. I'd play with the kids and see them ride their bikes. We'd laugh together."

Of one of the boys who died, he said, "The nephew was paralyzed, and so he didn't have a chance."

"Regardless of whether you know the persons or not, it can't help but touch you," said another neighbor, Annette Gilliam.

In his benediction, Carter said: "Bless those who are fighting for their lives."


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