Diocesan News

Family Members Lost in House Fire Laid to Rest

On July 29, Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros celebrated an emotional funeral Mass for the three lives lost in an accidental Richmond Hill house fire. (Photo: Allyson Escobar)

Richmond Hill — At an emotional bilingual funeral Mass at Holy Child Jesus Church in Richmond Hill on July 29, family, friends and parishioners mourned the deaths of parishioners Silvia Umana and her children, Gilbert and Guadalupe, who perished in a July 21 house fire.

Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, the pastor, celebrated the Mass.

Silvia, 51, was a single mother and pharmacist from El Salvador. She, her son Gilbert, 19, and her daughter, Guadalupe, 7, were beloved by the parish community. Gilbert initially survived the inferno, but passed away from his injuries.

Silvia’s younger son, Gabriel, was the lone survivor of the fire. FDNY officials ruled the blaze accidental, saying it was caused by a damaged air conditioner electrical cord. The house on 117th Street and Atlantic Avenue also reportedly had no working smoke detector.

Many of Gilbert, Gabriel and Guadalupe’s classmates attended the funeral and burial, which took place that afternoon at St. John Cemetery in Middle Village.

After the funeral, Bishop Cisneros expressed his sorrow and prayers from Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who was unable to attend. “On behalf of the priests, of our community, we express our condolences. We are here for you. When one part of the body is lost, the whole body fails,” Bishop Cisneros said.

Silvia’s brother, Ivan Umana, said that the family is taking the tragedy “day by day.”

“Hopefully God will give us the strength to move on with our lives. Gabriel is distraught, but he has the support of the family unit,” Ivan told The Tablet. “We couldn’t have had this support without you guys. We’re very grateful for the monetary, physical, emotional and spiritual support given by the parish over the years. It’s like a beacon of hope in the middle of this whole tragedy.”

Ivan remembers his younger sister as “very studious,” the first in her family to graduate from college.

“She became a pharmacist,” he said. “She was living the American dream.”

The Umana family regularly attended Mass at Holy Child Jesus, and Guadalupe was an incoming second-grader at the parish’s school. Gabriel had also been a student there.

“My heart breaks for Gabriel right now,” Patricia Winters, the principal, said after the funeral. “His mother loved him, loved all her children. He’s a good boy … I can’t even imagine the suffering and the pain that he’s going through. I’ve said to the family that we are here for them [for] support.”

Winters has started a memorial fund on GoFundMe, with a goal of raising $75,000. She says the school will continue to raise money to help Gabriel, an incoming sophomore at Richmond Hill H.S. who will be living with a family member for now.