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How the Site of a Bronx Fire Became a Haven for Gambians

Although Mr. Touray died in 2019 at age 81 of heart failure, about 50 members of the immediate and extended family were living in the building at the time of the fire, according to one of his sons, Suleyman Touray, and Mariama Touray, who is married to one of his nephews. Following the norms of his culture and religion, Mr. Touray had three Islamic-law wives who still lived in the apartment on the third floor. Two of his widows were placed in hotels; the third had been visiting Gambia at the time of the fire.

Born in Sotuma Sere, a village in Eastern Gambia, Mr. Touray moved to the country through a program for “young democrats,” his daughter Fatiah Touray, 38, said.

Mr. Touray was well-traveled and spoke at least nine languages — English, French, Arabic, Soninke, Mandingo, Fulani, Wolof, Lingala and Sierra Leonean Creole. On arriving in the United States, he started a nonprofit called the Pan-African Islamic Society out of his apartment and offered Islamic services to celebrities such as Muhammad Ali and Cicely Tyson, according to family members.

“He realized that there was no real place where West Africans could get their proper funeral rites as Muslims, and he was really instrumental in getting that started for the Muslim community,” said Magundo Touray, 41, one of his daughters.

“If someone got arrested and they didn’t speak a language, the 46th precinct always used to knock on our door and say, like, ‘Hey, Mister, we got someone that’s lost. Maybe you can help us,’.”

Gita Sankano grew up in a nearby building but spent much of her childhood visiting or being babysat by relatives there. “We all knew 3G,” she said, Mr. Touray’s apartment. “When my mother came to the U.S. she stayed at 3G. My naming ceremony was in 3G. It is our own village. That’s how deep it is. It’s our own community. This is a tragedy for the whole Gambian community.”

At Twin Parks North West, neighbors and residents saw Mr. Touray in the courtyard handing out dollar bills to children. People went in and out of his apartment, often filled with the fragrance of jollof rice, plantains and okra stew. On Eid, throngs of people would crowd the hallways of the building. “They’d come from the mosque down the block and then straight to the house,” said Magundo Touray.

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