`It pains us, it hurts us, to see him go'

Hundreds pay tribute to 7-year-old boy killed in rowhouse fire

May 30, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN REPORTER

The gleaming white casket was several feet long; the body of the 7-year-old boy clad in a white suit lay inside.

MarQuis D. Ellis was in second grade at Highlandtown Elementary School, a boy remembered yesterday for his playful demeanor, his love of playing ball and tag, riding his bike and eating McDonald's fast food.

Hundreds of mourners filled Israel Baptist Church in a ceremony marked by restrained emotion and the question of how to explain the abrupt end of such a short life.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Maryland section yesterday incorrectly reported the number of people who had died by that point as a result of last week's fire on Cecil Avenue. By early yesterday, six had been killed by the blaze. The seventh died yesterday.

Some came as strangers, others were family members and friends spared from the deadly fire that claimed seven victims - six of them children - a week ago. Seven others were badly burned in the fire. Those close to him came wearing R.I.P. T-shirts with a montage of pictures of the smiling boy.

"Sunrise 11/15/99," the shirt read. "Sunset 5/22/07."

Atop the casket sat a picture framed by cloth roses and leaves with five pictures of MarQuis. As a baby. On roller-skates. Splayed on the coach.

Oneika Ellis, MarQuis' mother, her burns still bandaged, came to the church to view her son briefly. She was quickly shuttled outside in a wheelchair equipped with an oxygen tank to aid her breathing. Then she returned to continue her recovery at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where she is listed in fair condition.

It was the first funeral since the fire - one of the city's deadliest ever - ripped through a crowded East Baltimore rowhouse on Cecil Avenue. All but one of the 14 people in the house were members of the same extended family.

Four, including the matriarch, Deneen Thomas, 42, remain hospitalized.

Ellis, 27, is the girlfriend of Dominic Thompson, one of Deneen Thomas' sons, who was also injured in the fire.

Family members had wanted to have one funeral for the seven victims, bound together by a web of connections in a house that included four generations.

But the difficulty of identifying victims conclusively has slowed the process.

Danielle Davis, Thomas' sister, has said that most of the victims had never been to a dentist, making identification by dental records impossible.

Today, the second funeral, for Nijuan Thomas Jr., 3, will take place at March Funeral Home's West facility at 4300 Wabash Ave. Nijuan is the grandson of Thomas.

March Funeral Home has donated its services to the family.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, said Chief Kevin Cartwright, a city Fire Department spokesman.

While its cause has not been officially determined, a source close to the investigation has said that the fire was likely caused by a person smoking on a couch in the front room.

Mayor Sheila Dixon attended yesterday's ceremony, offering words of consolation to the family, and comparing MarQuis to her own son, Joshua, who is 12 years old and whose birthday is just a few days from MarQuis'.

"I read in the obituary that he hated to get his hair combed and my son hates to get his hair brushed," she said. "I probably know his personality better than many of you. ... Having a lot of energy, having a lot of laughter and wanting to play, probably more than wanting to do homework. Having the kind of personality where you just fall in love with his spirit and his soul."

Dixon promised that "whatever the answer is to this tragic, tragic fire incident at that home, we will do anything in our power to not allow this to happen again and to also help you to make your families and your life whole again."

Pastors from East and West Baltimore - a notable accomplishment for a city whose black communities are divided by politics and geography - joined together to offer explanations to the inexplicable.

"I got some good news and some bad news," said Marvis May, pastor at Macedonia Baptist Church in West Baltimore. "This body of MarQuis has been ripped, but the engine, his spirit, is alive."

In delivering the eulogy, the Rev. H. Walden Wilson II, pastor at Israel Baptist Church, focused on the belief that "death is not the end" and "death is not loss."

"No Christian would want to live in any city in America forever in this life, in this city, in these neighborhoods, with all the imperfections," said Wilson. "Who wants to live here forever?"

"I can speak on behalf of MarQuis," he continued. "It pains us, it hurts us, to see him go. But when we start to think about it, he will never experience any childhood diseases. He will never encounter gang violence. He will never experience cruel and evil speech. ... He will never experience drug activity."

Wilson went on to note the good that will become of MarQuis' premature death. "MarQuis' homegoing has impacted the City of Baltimore," he said.

"If you don't believe me, look around and you can see for your own self how he brought us together," he continued. "He brought east and west. He brought ordinary and extraordinary people together. He brought black and white. Matter of fact, he had to bring some church folk together. ... He brought denominations together.

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