Hundreds mourn 8 killed in Cleveland fire

By Thomas J. Sheeran

Published May 31, 2005 3:47PM (EDT)

Hundreds of mourners crowded a convention center Tuesday for the funeral of eight of the nine people killed in the city's deadliest house fire.

Speakers eulogized the victims, who included eight children on a birthday sleepover, as members of a close-knit family who touched many in the community.

The May 21 deaths have drawn sympathy from all corners of Cleveland, with residents maintaining daily memorials outside the burned house, giving money and donating caskets and funeral services.

The cause had not been determined yet, although it apparently was accidental. All the victims -- the mother, children, cousins and friends of the extended Carter family -- died of smoke inhalation. A separate funeral already has been held for one of the victims, a family friend.

The city shut down several streets and closed schools for Tuesday's funeral, the first at the 10,000-seat Public Hall since the death of former Mayor Carl B. Stokes in 1997.

Many of the mourners were students, and speakers -- including U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Mayor Jane Campbell -- asked them to honor the dead.

''Each child was there for all the right reasons. Each child had hopes and dreams and now we have a new responsibility," Campbell said. ''And that is that we want to have each of those children's dreams that can't be fulfilled in the way that they had hoped be fulfilled by other children in this community."

She said the mother of the children who died in the fire was known for trying to create happy celebrations such as the birthday sleepover.

At a viewing Monday, an estimated 3,500 people filed somberly past the eight caskets.

Stuffed toys, balloons and flowers were piled waist-high outside the burned house every day last week. The victims' family said the gifts would be donated to underprivileged children in the neighborhood.

A retired police detective donated four burial plots and a cemetery donated five more. The family also has been promised free headstones, caskets, vaults and burial clothes, and more than 100 churches have been collecting money for families of the victims.

Thomas J. Sheeran

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