By Tim Harfmann and Allyson Escobar
Holy Child Jesus parish in Richmond Hill is mourning after the deaths of three of its own.
On July 23, the community gathered at Holy Child Jesus Church to honor Silvia Umana, 51, and her children, Gilbert, 19, and Guadalupe, 7, who perished in an accidental house fire on the morning of July 21.
Gilbert initially survived with severe burns throughout his body, according to the family, but on July 23, he passed away at New York Presbyterian/Weill-Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan.
Only Silvia’s middle son, Gabriel, 15, survived the inferno, which was caused by a damaged air conditioner cord, according to FDNY officials.
Silvia, a single mom from El Salvador, and her kids frequently attended Mass at Holy Child Jesus. Guadalupe was a rising second-grader at Holy Child Jesus Academy.
Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, the pastor, celebrated an emotional memorial Mass in English and Spanish, with parishioners and a grieving Gabriel present.
“As more parishioners and even our kids are learning about it, the pain and the sorrow continues to grow … and yes, we will have questions on why this is happening,” Bishop Cisneros said before the service.
“There is one certain thing that we know: We all shall die, we shall all go to the Lord,” he said.
“There is a place for each one of us. The when, we don’t know, and it makes us sad, but we have hope. We believe in the resurrection, that Jesus died and rose for all of us, and definitely for Silvia, Gilbert and little Guadalupe. What a beautiful name, Guadalupe, the name of our blessed Mother.”
After the Mass, parishioners poured out their condolences.
“We’re mourning the community, but we’ll get together, we’ll pass,” said Norma Vasquez, whose son was close friends with Guadalupe. “We will be okay.”
“She was such a sweetheart,” said Ana Roja, whose daughter was best friends with Guadalupe. The two were classmates together in the first grade. “She was always happy and giving, smiles to everybody. She was a little bit shy at the beginning, but we always told her, ‘you go ahead and make good friends, make a lot of friends.’”
Friends placed flowers, stuffed animals and handwritten cards at a growing memorial on the steps of the school campus.
“I know you’re in heaven with your mom, brother, and God,” one child wrote on a card.
Families were invited to a meeting at the school before Mass to talk about the tragedy and to find ways to heal.
“It helped us a lot with the parents, that they were talking and how other parents cope with their kids and how they spoke,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez’s fifth-grade son told her that they were close, and Guadalupe would hug him every morning in school at breakfast.
“She used to say ‘I missed you,’” Vasquez said of her son. “Then he started to cry, so that got me even sadder.”
Patricia Winters, the school’s principal, remembered Silvia as a “hardworking woman” who was closely involved in the lives of her kids and of the community.
“Miss Umana loved her children. She was their biggest advocate, and she was also a great help to the school,” Winters said.
A GoFundMe donation page has been set up to help raise funds to help the family. As of July 24, $21,000 had been raised toward the goal of $75,000.
A funeral Mass for the three deceased family members will be held July 29 at Holy Child Jesus Church.