Holy Child Jesus Student Dies in House Fire

Tags: Currents, Brooklyn Diocese, Brooklyn, NY, Catholic, Catholic Academy, Catholic Church, Catholic Family, Faith, Family, FDNY, Fire, Fires, Holy Name of Jesus, Queens, NY

By Allyson Escobar and Tim Harfmann

A fire on the first floor of a Richmond Hill, Queens house took the lives of a mother and her seven-year-old daughter on Sunday, July 21.

The child, Guadalupe Perez, was a rising 2nd grade student at Holy Child Jesus Catholic Academy.

Silvia Umana was home with Guadalupe and two teenage sons, Gilbert and Gabriel, when a two-alarm fire broke out in their building around 9:30 a.m.

The fatal fire was “accidental and electrical,” caused by a damaged air conditioner cord, according to FDNY Deputy Press Secretary Myles Miller.  “A working smoke alarm was not present,” Miller said.

FDNY arrived on the scene two minutes after receiving a 9:38 a.m. 911 call.

According to firefighters, the blaze at 117th Street and Atlantic Avenue began on the first floor where Umana and her daughter were trapped from escape by barred windows.

“They were met with fire on the first floor extending to the second,” said FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Michael Ajello told CBS News.

Witnesses say Umana’s 15-year-old son, Gabriel, was able to jump out of a rear window before the fast-spreading blaze made its way to the second floor.

Umana, 51, and her daughter were taken to Jamaica Hospital and unable to be saved.

Gilbert, 19, was transferred to Cornell Hospital and in critical condition as of Monday (July 22) afternoon, according to the NYPD. Gabriel, 15, was transferred to Kings County Hospital and in stable condition.

A community in mourning 

Umana, a pharmacist who immigrated from El Salvador, was remembered by her community as a mother who worked endlessly for her children.

“Her kids were number one,” Richmond Hill neighbor Ramona Elahie told the Daily News.

Andre Scott, who works across the street at a lumber yard, remembers his lunch breaks seeing Guadalupe always playing with her mother on the block, full of joy.

“This is crazy. It’s really heartbreaking to know someone died in here,” Scott said. “Every time I see her she’s always playing, always running up and down the block.”

Soon after the news of the tragedy spread, a memorial fund on GoFundMe was started by Holy Child Jesus Catholic Academy principal Patricia Winters, with the goal of raising $75,000.

Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros, the pastor at Holy Child Jesus Catholic Parish, expressed his deep sorrow, and shared how parishioners are coming together to both heal and help.

“The parish is in mourning, and we are all shocked,” Cisneros told The Tablet. “Our reaction is first of all one of prayer. We pray to almighty God for Silvia and for the brothers in the hospital. We know that Guadalupe is with the Lord — she’s one of those whom God has said, let the children come to me. We are very sad because of this situation, but we entrust these souls to the Lord, and we pray for the two boys.”

Auxiliary Bishop Cisneros also said that the parish community “doors are open to celebrate the funeral, and to offer our best to this wonderful little girl and her mother.”

Father Christopher R. Heanue, parochial vicar and administrator, appealed for prayers over Facebook. “We mourn as a family – and we will do all we can to help. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.”

A parish community meeting about dealing with loss was held on the evening of July 23 at the school library, followed by a memorial Mass celebrated by Bishop Cisneros.