Hundreds of friends and relatives joined the Newark, NJ community last Saturday morning in paying tribute to five Vincentians and an American who were killed in a fast-moving house fire on Father’s Day.
Family members had identified the victims to Caribbean Life as: Vincentian-born Salome Keil Stewart, 58; her American-born husband, Reginald Stewart, 58; Salome’s daughters Noreen “Michelle” Keil Johnson, 43 (Vincentian) and Natasha Kinsale Forbes, 37, (Trinidadian); and Salome’s grandsons, American born Stephon Sydney, 15, and Zion Forbes, 11.
Essex (Newark) County officials confirmed that Salome, her husband and daughter Natasha were the known occupants of the house. Noreen, Zion and Stephon were visiting at the time of the fire.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ New York Consul General Selmon Walters was also among mourners at the funeral service at the Solid Rock Baptist Church in nearby Irvington.
For more than four hours, mourners bid farewell and lent a hopeful reverence to the victims, according to the Newark-based Star Ledger newspaper.
“I’m not going to ask (God) why,” said Christine Keil-Moultrie, sister of Salome Keil Stewart. “I’m just going to give him thanks and praise. You just don’t know when you are going to go.”
In paying tribute to the victims, relatives and friends spoke about their Vincentian roots and Christian faith, and reflected on their loves and passions.
“He’s in my heart, and he’s up in heaven,” said Alicia Forbes, referring to her son, Zion Forbes, who she said liked art, Spiderman comics and church.
Zion Forbes’s pastor, the Rev. Christopher Gordon, of Gospel Sound Worship Center in North Plainfield, NJ, echoed similar sentiments, according to the Star Ledger.
“He was such a funny kid,” he said in an interview. “When he sits in Bible discussion, he asked questions and never wanted it to stop. He would say ‘I don’t want it to end.’”
Nicholas Keil reflected on the last conversation he had with his mother, Noreen Keil Johnson.
“She told me ‘I’ll see you next Saturday,’” he said. “I didn’t expect to see you like this.”
In reading the late American poet Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” during the funeral service, Michelle Jackson said it captured the gregarious personality of family friend, Noreen Johnson.
“You are phenomenal to all of us,” she said. “I am so proud to have walked this journey called life with you.”
Relatives remembered Reginald Stewart, a U.S. Army veteran and Bronx native, and Salome Keil Stewart as a couple who stuck with each other through thick and thin, the Star Ledger said.
Family members said Salome Keil Stewart, the family matriarch, doted on her children and grandchildren.
“That woman never left my side no matter what I put her through,” said Alicia Forbes of her mother.
The Rev. Eric Beckham, of Clear View Baptist Church in Newark, said it was important to mourn the lives of those who died, but not give up trust in God.
“It is my prayer that your faith will survive this,” he said in his eulogy. “You’re gonna need your faith.”
Officials said that the Father’s Day fire sparked about 4 a.m., when a heat source ignited plastic flowers on the home’s porch.
In a message circulated to Vincentians in the Diaspora, Walters appealed to nationals to help defray funeral expenses.
“I was reliably informed by Pastor Gordon and other relatives that the overall cost for the funerals will be about US$28,000.00,” he said.
“Whereas, we may not be able to ease the emotional burden this family is experiencing due to this very tragic and sudden loss, we can certainly assist in easing the financial burden by contributing to the burial expenses,” he added.
“To this end, I urge everyone to contribute generously to this very worthwhile cause,” the consul general continued.
He said contributions can be made to Lavern McDowald-Thompson, president of the umbrella Vincentian group in the United States, the Brooklyn, New York-based Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO),by calling (347) 385-6227; or the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Consulate Office in midtown Manhattan at (212) 687-4490.
Both Walters and McDowald-Thompson also appealed for financial aid at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Nurses Association of New York, Inc.’s gala luncheon last Sunday at El Caribe Country Club in Brooklyn.
Walters said all contributions will be sent to family members in New Jersey responsible for the burials. The victims were interred last Saturday.
“Let us do our very best to assist our brothers and sisters in this crisis,” Walters said.
“I’m appealing to all Vincentians here to make a contribution towards the funeral expenses,” McDowald-Thompson told Caribbean Life as well.