The westbank location of the Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church was the setting for a funeral service many will not forget. More than 3,000 people of various walks of life attended the home going for the 11 victims who perished in the tragic house fire on March 10.
With standing room only, many people from around the New Orleans area packed into the large Marrero church to pay their respects. As family members and friends entered through the side doors of the sanctuary, the church band played "On Eagle’s Wings."
"I tried to hold back the tears and be strong for my family," said Lane Burns, a family member. "To see the 11 brass boxes that carried the ashes made me think and count my blessings."
As family members let go of their emotions, signs of their grief filled the church. The sound of loud screams and wails along with the sight of people passing out was a fresh reminder of how the family was well loved.
As Bishop Paul S. Morton sang "Your Tears," mourners stood to their feet to show that it was not only a sad occasion, but also a joyous occasion. Several family members at that point had to be carried out of the service.
"The only way you will be able to make it as a family is if you all keep the faith," Morton said.
"I’m so happy to see both black and white men and women coming together as a community," said Derrick Sheppard, state representative for Marrero. "Along with donations from various churches, we have raised well over $300,000 and counting to help the family out."
Among the dead are Sabrina Wilson, 35, five of her children, Latoya, 16, Sylvailn, 14, Sterlon, 12, Chelsea, 10 and Stephanie, 9; Wilson’s brother, Curtis Wilson, Jr., 42, and her sister Tiffany Wilson, 33. Also killed were Latoya Wilson’s two children Nar-yh Brooks, 1, and Hyron Wilson, 6 months, and Wilson’s godchild Quastella Senette, 3.
Only four of the family members escaped the blaze, which was caused by a candle falling onto a mattress. They are Sabrina Wilson’s daughter, Ireone, her baby Samarion, 7 months; Amos Hardy, the baby’s father; and Wilson’s brother, George Wilson.
"Only four of the bodies were recognizable, so the decision was made to cremate the bodies," said W.P. Davis of Davis Mortuary Service.
The Crescent City Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association handled the expenses of the funeral service.