Five tiny metal caskets lined the front of the church Saturday, each wrapped in a custom vinyl design. A picture of a pony for the youngest child, 2-year-old Loy-el. Scenery from a favourite video game on the casket of the oldest child, 9-year-old Deontae. All five caskets, bathed in pinks and blues.
Sabrina Dunigan’s five children died Aug. 6 in an apartment fire, its cause is still undetermined. Their grandfather and his wife jumped from the apartment’s second floor while Dunigan was away picking up her boyfriend.
“The community is hurting,” East St. Louis Mayor Robert Eastern III said before Saturday’s funeral. “We stand in support of the mom, emotionally and spiritually.”
The mayor was a boy 40 years ago and vaguely recalls 11 children dying in an East St. Louis house fire while their mother was out gambling. Stories of that tragedy still circulate in town.
But Eastern and others in the crowd Saturday of some 300 mourners experienced a similarly moving event: five coffins, five hearses.
The mourners, masked due to COVID-19 rules, sat shoulder to shoulder inside Greater St. Mark Church of God in Christ. All eyes were on Sabrina Dunigan, sobbing and so overcome by sadness that her legs went nearly limp and she leaned on a woman ushering her to the front pew.
In addition to Loy-el Dunigan and her brother, Deontae Davis, the siblings who died were a 4-year-old boy, Jabari Johnson, and twin 8-year-old girls, Heaven and Neveah “Veah” Dunigan.
Sheila Dunigan, the children’s great-aunt, spoke directly to Sabrina Dunigan from the lectern.
“We all know, your whole entire family knows, that you were a great mom and loved those children,” she said.
Deontae was remembered as being protective of his sisters. He wanted to be a policeman when he grew up. Neveah loved butterflies and nature. Heaven enjoyed playing dress-up. Jabari loved all kinds of food and food shows. And Loy-el had a smile that could light up a room.
Cause still unknown
Hanging over the solemn church ceremony were questions about how the children died.
The Illinois state fire marshal’s office said Friday afternoon that the fire that killed Dunigan’s children was still under investigation. The children died of smoke inhalation, but the manner of death — such as an accident or homicide — is still undetermined, coroner Calvin Dye Sr. said.
Source: ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH