About 100 people gathered in falling snow Saturday afternoon in the yard of a burned-out duplex in north Minneapolis to hold a vigil for five children who died in a fire Friday.
Mourners sang, prayed and vowed to support the children's father, Troy Lewis, and two surviving children, who are hospitalized for their injuries.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges acknowledged the shock and pain that many in the neighborhood were feeling at the death of two boys and three girls.
"If one part of our community is hurting, our entire community is hurting," Hodges said. "The whole of Minneapolis as a people, are mourning, mourning these babies, giving our thoughts and prayers to this family, and turning to one another for healing."
Shirley Walker lives in north Minneapolis. She said the neighborhood needs to go the extra mile to support the family.
"I don't know them, but we're going to keep them in prayer," Walker said. "I just hope everybody continues to just surround them with love so they have some way to live, to get through this."
Since the fire, people have brought flowers, balloons and stuffed animals to the steps of the beige duplex on the 2800 block of Colfax Avenue. A handwritten sign reads "Rest in heaven, little angels."
Two of the children, a first-grader and a second-grader, were students at Bethune Community School. Principal Melissa Jackson said the school supported the children when their mother died last year and would continue to help out the family.
"I spent many minutes and many memories with them," Jackson said. They were "all just beautiful strong children, loved coming to school, loved being a part of the school community -- and it's just sad that they won't be with us anymore."
A group of about 10 teachers from the school linked arms in the front yard and tearily shared recollections of the children with one another.
Minneapolis Public School spokesperson Stan Alleyne said the district told teachers of the students' deaths during the school day and informed parents in the evening. District officials plan to bring in grief counselors when school is back in session on Tuesday.
"Some of these teachers are like mothers to these students, so it's very hard," Alleyne said. "The teachers are going to come back on Tuesday, we're going to have supports in place to make sure that they can come back as normal as they can."
North Minneapolis business owner Helen Williams helps low-income familes through the process of planning and paying for funerals, and she's helping Troy Lewis make arrangements for his five children.
Hennepin County will help with the cost of each funeral and burial, just as long as the total amount doesn't exceed $3,500, Williams said. Community fundraising is important, but if the donations are not managed properly, Williams said the family could lose the public funeral assistance.
"When you're fundraising, we need to be careful that we don't jeopardize their eligibility," she said.
Williams said Troy Lewis has not yet decided on funeral arrangements because he's been receiving treatment for injuries he suffered in the fire. But Williams said Lewis and his two surviving children will certainly face other expenses, not least of which will be finding and furnishing a new home.
Troy Lewis is in satisfactory condition at Hennepin County Medical Center. Shaca and Electra Lewis are still in critical condition. The family is making funeral arrangements for the other five children, Christopher, 8; Mary, 6; Gwendolyn, 19 months; Fannie, 5; and Troy, 3.
Minneapolis Public Schools, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Council Member Blong Yang are collecting donations for the family. Checks should be made out to the MFT. They are also accepting donations of clothing, household items and toiletries at MFT offices at 67 8th Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis or the information desk at the MPS Davis Center at 1250 West Broadway Avenue.
Officials are still investigating what caused the fire.