Friends and family set up a memorial at the site of a fatal fire… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
A little more than a week ago, little children filled the yard of the Northeast Baltimore home with playthings and laughter. Neighbors of the Denwood Avenue rowhouse recalled happy, friendly and smiling kids under the eye of an ever-watchful grandmother.
Now their bikes and toys lie in a charred heap by the concrete front porch. Debris fills the yard from the deadly fire that claimed the lives of four children and the woman the Worrell family called Mama Nancy.
Family members and an estimated 1,000 mourners paid final tribute Thursday to Nancy Worrell, the 55-year-old at the heart of a family that included her husband of 27 years, 14 children, 60 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She died Oct. 11 along with three grandchildren and a great-grandson in the 2 a.m. blaze that destroyed the two-story brick rowhouse.
The grandchildren, Tykia Manley, 7, Darryl Stewart, 4, and K-Niyah Scott, 2, all lived at the home. The great-grandchild whom Mrs. Worrell was baby-sitting for the evening, James Holden, 1, also died in the two-alarm fire, which remains under investigation.
Crowds lingered in the lobby of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church before the 11 a.m. service to look at photo collages of each child. A photo of Nancy Worrell surrounded by pictures of each child graced the program cover. That image was reprinted on T-shirts worn by many mourners.
"They are all heaven-bound," said Sharron Fenner, who lost her mother, grandson, two nieces and a nephew in the fire.
The program pages were filled with more photos and endearing memories; how Darryl loved Hot Wheel cars and how K-Niyah and her "hip-hop" grandmother shared many a dance to their favorite Beyonce songs.
The church sanctuary filled well ahead of the service. Mourners faced five enlarged photos beside five white caskets in front of the altar. The pastor, Bishop Clifford M. Johnson, asked the congregation to join hands and pray.
"Even in your grief and pain, find space to give to God," he said. "These boxes up here, that's not them. They are living in that place called heaven."
Sisters Ciera, Danielle and Frenchlynn Worrell read personal verses to their mother, nieces and nephews, ending with "rest in peace, angels."
A visibly shaken Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake praised a beautiful family and told mourners that "the whole city is wrapping you in prayer." She met the immediate family the day of the fire and called Nancy Worrell the glue that held her family together.
"It is in times like this that you would call your mother for advice," Rawlings-Blake said. "She is with you. She hears you. Call on her, and if all else fails, call on the Lord."
Mourners also prayed for the recovery of Wilson Worrell, Nancy Worrell's husband, who remains in Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center with third-degree burns and a broken back he suffered when he jumped from the home's second floor.
"He is not out of the woods," said Barbara Hopkins of her son. "He needs all of our support."
Shade Worrell, mother of Darryl and K-Niyah, saved her infant son by throwing him out a window to her nephew, Roderick Goodman, and then jumped herself. She did not speak at the funeral, but wrote tributes to her loved ones in the program.
She wrote of a mother whose bright eyes could light up the sky, of a son who took his role as big brother seriously and helped care for K-Niyah and baby Vance. She recalled how her daughter always kissed her baby brother good night.
Lakia Worrell wrote that her daughter Tykia was a stellar student who liked to read. Everyone agreed that baby James, who celebrated his first birthday days before the fire, was born with a smile on his face and kept it.
Friends and family have created a makeshift shrine at the Worrell home, which is damaged beyond repair and will be demolished. Clusters of balloons are tied to the fence, porch posts and trees.
Teachers from Moravia Park Elementary, where Tykia and Darryl were students, hung a blue banner on a chain-link fence. On it, classmates and staff placed Tykia's last artwork and surrounded it with angel wings and notes of condolence, telling the little girl she was loved and will be missed. In memory of Darryl, the schoolchildren donated their own small metal cars and trucks. Dozens line the concrete porch steps, along with stuffed animals, bouquets of flowers and photos.
"They were the sweetest children," said Georgia Foster, a neighbor. "They played with my grandchildren, and I often talked with their grandmother."
Family members expressed gratitude to all who assisted them during the last week, including the Vaughn Greene Funeral Home. The city also offered funds to defray the funeral costs, and Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens donated five burial plots. The Red Cross is helping the surviving family members find housing. Many others have reached out to the family.
Earlier this week, Tykia's school bus stopped at the house. The driver opened the door, knowing no child would climb off. He lingered at the memorials. He called to neighbors gathered in the front yard and asked what he could do to help.
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