Little Donavan Duell fell asleep in the arms of Maj. Mike Himes last Christmas morning as the major preached to the congregation at The Salvation Army on Lafayette Street.
“He blessed everybody that day,” said Himes, recalling how the sleeping baby boy reminded congregants of the Christ child.
On Sunday, Himes offered comfort to that same congregation as parishioners mourned the loss of 11-month-old Donavan, along with two of his siblings and their father, all of whom died in a house fire on Hulett Street on Thursday.
Also killed were Layah Terry, 3, Michael Terry, 2 and David Terry, 32. A fourth child, 5-year-old Safyre Terry, suffered severe burns and is at Westchester Medical Center.
No update was available on her condition Sunday.
“How do we draw consolation at a time like this? How do we draw any comfort at a time of grief like this? How do we appease our anger that something like this happened?” Himes asked the churchgoers who filled the pews in the small chapel. “We can only leave it in God’s hands and confess that there are some things we just don’t understand, and yet we do know that God is still with us and with Safyre.”
Heavenleigh Bosco, 16, of Schenectady, bounced her 1-year-old daughter, Jayanna, on her hip before the service, reminiscing about Safyre, who is her cousin.
“When she was a real baby, like my daughter, they used to live upstairs from me and I used to go up there all the time. I used to be up there every day,” she said.
The young mother wasn’t sure if Sunday’s service would help ease her sorrow.
“You can’t really take my pain away just by trying to say something,” she said, turning her attention back to the child squirming in her arms.
Eleven-year-old Makayla Bosco is also a cousin to the young fire victims.
“They used to come to church here and we were really close,” she said Sunday morning at The Salvation Army, recalling how she used to walk them to their Sunday school rooms.
The Salvation Army’s van would pick up Donavan, Michael, Layah and Safyre at their home on Hulett Street and bring them to the church on Sunday mornings. Paula Truby of Glenville is the van’s driver.
“I actually ran over that morning when I heard [the fire] was on Hulett Street because I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t them and it was,” she said.
The kids were always very happy to come to church, she recalled.
“And Safyre, I just pray for her, because — you can even tell in the pictures — her spirit just shines through her eyes,” she said with a sad smile.
The Salvation Army’s Citadel Band filled the sanctuary with music, and there was a time of silent prayer for the family devastated by the fire.
Four vases, each containing a single rose, stood at the front of the sanctuary as reminders of the children who used to laugh and play there. Three were red, for those who lost their lives. The single pink rose was in honor of Safyre, who is struggling for hers.
“The children had no choice in their fate, but we believe God has a choice in their eternal fate, so that’s the comfort that we’re giving today — that they’ve flown to Jesus,” Himes said. “We’re also going with thankfulness that they had the opportunity while they were here to come amongst a group of people who they knew loved them.”