By Tim Harfmann
On July 23, 19-year-old Gilbert Diaz succumbed to injuries he sustained from a raging fire that tore through his home in Richmond Hill, Queens.
The FDNY says a damaged air conditioner cord caused the inferno on Sunday, July 21. On the steps of Holy Child Jesus Catholic Academy is now a growing memorial.
As they remember the lives of three parishioners, members of this church community say they’re at a loss for words.
Diaz had just graduated from Richmond Hill High School and was planning on going to college. He frequently attended Mass with his family at Holy Child Jesus Church just blocks from his home.
Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, the pastor of Holy Child Jesus Church, says the community is already holding a memorial for the family tonight.
“The parish community is in deep mourning. Three members of our faith, three who have been in contact closely with this parish,” said Bishop Cisneros.
Gilbert’s sister, seven-year-old Guadalupe Perez and his mother 51-year-old Silvia Umana died Sunday in the blaze. His younger brother, Gabriel, is still alive.
Guadalupe had just completed first grade at the Holy Child Jesus Catholic Academy.
“Our Lord has said, ‘When one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts.’ And we are all hurting,” said Bishop Cisneros.
To cope, the academy is holding a meeting on the night of the vigil for parents to understand how to talk to their children about loss.
Parishioners say they feel for the only survivor Gabriel, who is now without any immediate family members.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t know what I would do without my parents, so just thinking about it, it is so overwhelming. Honestly, I have no words. It’s just so sad that he’s going to have no mother, no siblings,” said parishioner Alex Roldan.
“It’s going to be tough on him and he’s going to need all of our prayers and all of our support. I just pray that he has the grace of God to get him through this,” added parishioner Paul Cerni.
The principal of Holy Child Jesus Catholic Academy, Patricia Winters, has set up a donation page for community members to help the family.