Joyce Sarkodie, after eagerly awaiting her husband’s nightly call, never heard the phone ring when he dialed their home in Ghana for the last time.
It took two days for Joyce to discover why he never called again: Devoted family man Gabriel Sarkodie, 48, was among the last victims identified in a Bronx blaze that killed a dozen people Thursday.
“When I realized what happened, I couldn’t do anything,” the weeping wife told the Daily News from her home in Kumasi, Ghana. “I didn’t imagine I could lose my husband so quick.
“I don’t know why this happened to him. He was such a great person.” Joyce Sarkodie said her husband worked as an Uber driver in the Bronx, sending money back home twice a month to support their two kids, a 7-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl.
He was saving money, too — Sarkodie was planning to move his family to the Bronx and broke the news during a visit to his homeland last April.
“He came to see us, and we hugged like a real family,” his brokenhearted wife recalled Monday night. “He said he was preparing for us to join him. Honestly, I’m shivering talking about it.” Sarkodie was meticulous about calling home twice a day — once in the morning and once at night.
He was particularly concerned before his death because their daughter was ill. Joyce said she missed one call from her husband of eight years, and then waited for another that would never come. She dialed his number repeatedly, only to hear it ring endlessly. “Now I wish I could have been able to talk to him before … talk to him before …” she said before wailing in grief.
The distraught widow said the family was hoping to bring Sarkodie home for burial, although his return would bring her no peace or closure. “I don’t know what to do anymore,” said Joyce Sarkodie. “I don’t know how to go about life.”
As the Sarkodie family mourned in Africa, heartbroken relatives of other victims gathered at the Bronx fire scene Saturday evening for a prayer service.
The brother of victim Maria Batiz said he forgives the young mom whose 3-year-old son ignited the blaze while playing with a gas stove in their first-floor apartment.
And Fernando Batiz says his dead sister would have forgiven the woman, too. “My sister believed in the Lord,” he said. “She has three daughters. All I can do is keep her memory. Keep her in my heart. There’s nothing else I can do.” Maria Batiz, 56, died huddled inside the bathtub with her granddaughter Amora, just 7 months old, in her third-floor studio apartment in the Belmont building. Other relatives blamed the mom and charged she did little to alert residents in the other 24 apartments about the blaze.
Batiz took a different approach toward the mother, who escaped the inferno with the little boy and a second small child. “I forgive her,” he said. “Thank God she made it out alive, too, and her kid. It’s not the kid’s fault.”
On a vigil Monday night, the Rev. Jonathan Morris, of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, tried to console mourners, among them the Francis family, who lost four relatives. They lit a candle to honor and remember their dead.
“We gather tonight to say that these flames, the very flames that cause death, symbolize that God tonight is bigger than death itself,” said Morris, embracing the Stewart family matriarch Ambrozine Stewart. “That He is light.”
Killed in the raging fire were daughter Karen Stewart-Francis, 37, along with granddaughters, Shantay Young, 19, Kylie Francis, 2, and Charmela Francis, 7. Her son-in-law remains on life support and likely to die. Stewart, who brought her family to New York from their native Jamaica, looked up into the charred five-story Belmont building and dried the tears from her eyes.
“I leave everything to God,” she said. “Sometime I think I’ll understand. But right now, I’m lost. I’m not only grieving for me. I’m grieving for my daughter. “I’m grieving for my granddaughters … I’m hanging on by a thread. It hurts very much. I’m shaking like a leaf. I don’t know what to feel.”
– Daily News
List of Victims (**Ghanaian)
Deceased fire victims:
– 7-month-old Amora Serenity Vidal
– 2-year-old Kylie Francis
– 7-year-old Kelesha “Kelly” Francis
– 19-year-old Shantay Young
– 17-year-old Hannah Donkor ***
– 28-year-old Emmanuel Mensah ***
– 37-year-old Karen Francis
– 48-year-old Gabriel Yaw Sarkookie ****
– 49-year-old Solomon Donkor ****
– 54-year-old Justice Opoku ****
– 58-year-old Maria Batiz
-William Donkor (age unknown) *****