Funeral held for 5 children who died in Mpls. house fire

Funeral for victims of Feb. 14 Minneapolis fire
Several hundred friends, family, and community members gathered at a funeral Saturday to remember five children who died in a Minneapolis house fire on Feb. 14.
Alex Friedrich/MPR News

Five small white coffins lined the dais at Shiloh Temple International Ministries on Saturday - holding the brothers and sisters who died in a Valentine's Day house fire in north Minneapolis.

Several hundred friends and family gathered to remember them.

Debra Lewis of Chicago said the children's father - her brother, Troy - had always been there for his children.

And that included the morning of the fire.

"You were there," she told him from the church dais. "You tried. I know you tried. They know you tried. We all know you tried."

Troy Lewis had been living in a duplex on Colfax Avenue North with his seven children, ages 1 to 9, when the early-morning fire broke out last month.

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The fire killed five children: 18-month-old Gwendolyn, 3-year-old Troy, 4-year-old Fannie, 6-year-old Mary and 8-year-old Christopher.

Daughters Shaca, 9, and Electra, 5, remain in the hospital. Troy Lewis said their condition has improved, and that they're "running around" the hospital.

"My oldest daughter demands McDonald's, my baby girl demands M&Ms," he said. "So I'm happy. It's just that she's not 100 percent herself, my baby girl. She's just showing something that is not normal [compared to] before this happened. The constant smiling has kind of got me a little weirded out."

It's those two girls Troy Lewis must keep his mind on, his sister said at the funeral.

"Now you have to stand fast," she told him. "You need to be there for Shaca and Electra."

Photos and homemade artwork stood next to each child's casket, which friends, family and teachers visited.

Among community leaders recognized for their attendance were Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, DFL state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion of Minneapolis, Fire Chief John Fruetel, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Lynn Nordgren.

After the funeral, Lewis repeated allegations that his landlord, Mission Inn, had failed to keep the building maintained. Lewis has alleged that he used a space heater and an oven for heat because his requests to fix the heating were ignored.

Mission Inn owner Paul Bertelson has said he never received any such complaints.

The fire is still under investigation.