Raeleen Armour stood in the vacant lot on Hulett Street and asked for a volunteer.
“Who’s going to start our birthday song?” she said, as about 20 children sat before shrines to David Terry and his family. “Sing ‘Happy Birthday David.’ ”
The choir came through. Small voices saluted Terry, who would have turned 34 years old today.
Other people were on Hulett Street Friday night to mark another date, and they were in more somber moods. One year ago, on May 2, 2013, someone intentionally set fire to 438 Hulett, the apartment house occupied by Terry and his children — Sa’Fyre, then 5, Layah, 3, Michael, 2 and Donavan Duell, 11 months. Only Sa’Fyre, who was severely burned, survived. She is still recovering.
The vigil to mark the anniversary took place on the black gravel-covered lot across from Grant Avenue, the spot once occupied by 438 Hulett — now demolished. The shrines were decorated with T-shirts that contained a blue “Superman” logo for Terry and the names of the children. People also brought dozens of stuffed animals and tall red, white and green candles. Wind from the cool spring night flickered flames; cigarette smoke wafted around the lot.
“It’s sad for something like this to let us all come together,” said Armour, who lives in Schenectady and said she was Terry’s cousin.
Liz Dolder believes people coming together will help keep the investigation alive.
“We need justice,” said an emotional Dolder, Terry’s sister and the guardian of Layah Terry. “I don’t want people to forget David, Michael, Layah and Donavan. I’m frustrated with all the liars, and the person out there responsible is free as a bird and can hug their own children and grandchildren. We can’t hug our family.”
The fire started at 4:22 a.m. on May 2. Firefighters said the front stairs were doused with a liquid accelerant and set ablaze. Authorities also said the stairs led to a second-floor apartment where Terry and the children lay sleeping. The children’s mother, Jennica Duell, and two other men also lived in the apartment.
Officials said two people in the Terry apartment were able to escape. Nine people fled the first-floor apartment.
The person once charged with the crime was freed in February. The man was released, police said, after another suspect emerged.
Dolder, who lives in Schenectady County, pointed out photos of Layah at Halloween, dressed as a lamb in white and pink costume, the children’s character Strawberry Shortcake and as a unicorn. “I can’t hug her in my arms,” Dolder said, holding back tears. “Yes, it hurts.”
Many of the adults and children at the hourlong vigil were members of the extended Terry family. Some passed out posters from the New York division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that featured photographs of Terry and the four children and offered a reward of up to $12,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the people responsible for the fire.
Dolder wants the arsonists to know she won’t let anyone forget about her brother and his children.
“I will never give up,” she said. “Get used to my face. I’m not going to give up until somebody breaks and says the truth. I don’t know how somebody can sit with themselves … how can you sit with yourself when you’ve killed three babies and their father?”
“Somebody’s got to know something,” added 54-year-old Shirley Armour, Terry’s aunt, known in family circles as “Grandma Shirley.” She hopes the posters will make a difference. “We want them on poles, in restaurants, pin them all over,” she said. “We need peace of mind. … They took Liz’s life, that one girl was hers, she was raising Layah.”
Armour said the notices will be leaving Schenectady. She plans to post some in Saratoga Springs and Johnstown to spread the word.
Other people said they came to the vigil to support the Terry family. Some had words for the person who started the fire.
“I wish you’d take yourself off the street, man, turn yourself in,” said John Taylor, 57, who lives in Mont Pleasant. “Give this family justice.”
“It shows that people care,” added Jessica Hunt, 22, of Schenectady, of the gathering. “It warms my heart to see everybody come together.”
Some children cried as they remembered the kids they used to play with. “It’s very, very sad they died,” said hazel-eyed blonde Brianna Syrell, 8, of Schenectady. “They were my friends.”
Jasmine Mosley, 13, another Mont Pleasant resident, clutched a bundle of flowers she said she would later place on Terry’s grave. She said Terry was like an uncle to here.
“The people responsible should be ashamed,” she said, tearing up. “They made four beautiful people come out of this world that did not deserve it.”