Dozens of people gathered outside the charred remnants of a suburban Halifax home Tuesday night to mourn the loss of seven children killed in a fast-moving fire and to show support for the injured, grieving parents left behind.
They carried flowers and wept openly in the frigid darkness, looking for solace in the company of neighbours and listening to a Christian pastor attempt to gather community strength for the Muslim refugees from Syria beginning to make a new life in Canada.
Josh Crawford sang “Amazing Grace” and said they all needed to draw upon their faith to recover from the tragedy.
“The next couple of days are going to be hard, but it’s going to be the weeks and the months to come that this family is going to need you the most,” said Crawford, whose mother teaches at the school attended by the two oldest children.
The fire struck not long after midnight on Tuesday morning. Neighbours said they were awoken by a woman’s screams and looked out to see flames that quickly engulfed the entire upper floor.
Investigators had not yet determined the cause, but spent Wednesday examining the burnt remnants of the house and fire department officials told media they had no evidence to suggest it was suspicious.
The family had only lived in the Quartz Drive home for a few months, having moved into Halifax from Elmsdale, N.S., to take advantage of language training and other immigrant services.
They had fled war-torn Syria and, with the help of a private sponsorship group, came to Canada in September 2017. A spokesperson for the group said the family had planned to return to Elmsdale next month.
Natalie Horne, vice-president of the Hants East Assisting Refugees Team, identified the father as Ebraheim Barho and the mother as Kawthar Barho. She said the children who died are: Ahmad, 14; Rola, 12; Mohamad, 9; Ola, 8; Hala, 3; Rana, 2 and Abdullah, who was born in Canada in November.
Ebraheim Barho, who was badly burned while trying to rescue his kids, was fighting for his life Tuesday. Kawthar Barho was also injured, but is expected to survive.
Meanwhile, a fundraising campaign launched to help the parents was quickly gathering support.
The GoFundMe page entitled “Halifax House Fire Tragedy” had collected more than $217,000 of its stated $300,000 goal with donations from more than 4,400 people as of 8:00 a.m. local time Wednesday.
The effort is organized by family friends and the Imam Council of Halifax.
The call to gather for the vigil went out on a community Facebook page and more than 100 people responded.
They added more flowers, candles and teddy bears to a memorial propped up against a light standard in front of the house.
“What brought me here was those children that lost their lives,” said Fran Kirby, who brought flowers. “It’s a shame for those children, and those parents. I don’t even understand how anybody could tell a parent (their children had died).”
Her friend Heather Bennett was in tears as she talked about her own three-year-old boy.
“It hit home,” she said.
Iain McLaren and Kristen MacDiarmid said they moved into the neighbourhood two years ago and wanted to show their support to the community that had welcomed them.
“When you hear about these things in the media, you think these happen so far away, but today it happened so close and to have it happen to a family that’s from Syria, it’s just a devastating blow to the neighbourhood,” McLaren said.
Crawford said the emotional gathering was an important gesture for the people who came and for the grieving parents who couldn’t.
“It speaks volumes to the family—a father who can’t be here right now and the mother who is by her husband’s side,” he said. “It just shows that we as a community are standing together and here for this family.”
A funeral for the children is expected Wednesday or Thursday.
—with files from Maclean’s staff