ALBANY, N.Y. - It was a day filled with sadness for the family of 3-year-old Amari Welburn. Family and friends gathered Friday to say goodbye to their beloved daughter and sister at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Albany.
Amari died as the result of burns sustained in a fire at the family's 20 Benson Street home.
The family also expressed their anger on Friday. Amari's mother Marasia Vanness relived the day her home caught on fire.
"I woke up to my daughter screaming saying that there was a fire. I run into the living room tried to put the couch out my front door. I tried to put the fire out," said Vanness.
Vanness says she put her five children down for a nap and then fell asleep as well. She admitted Friday that she had put the stove burners on to heat the house. The fire, ruled accidental, was started just before noon when the 3-year-old lit an incense on the burning stovetop and left it on the couch, where the fire started. Vanness and her four children escaped. Amari was found in a back bedroom which was filled with smoke. Since her death Amari's four siblings, ages 1, 2, 4, and 7, were taken from the family by child protective services. Vanness four other children were with their grandmother Mary Alice Taylor after the fire, and when the Albany County Department of Social Services investigation revealed that the stove at that residence was being used to also heat the home they believed the children should be taken away.
"They thought the apartment was too hot and management felt that they were using the stove to heat the apartment, which was untrue, which was denied," said Vanness' attorney Bernard Byran.
Vanness says she feels decieved after signing a voluntary order placing her children in foster care. She says she was told they would be returned within 72 hours.
"I just lost on of my kids already. I didn't think I was going to end up losing the other four for no reason at all. I'm sad, I'm angry," said Vanness.
Ann Pope with the NAACP also spoke out on Friday saying,"We will not stand by and allow Albany County or any County to abuse and misuse this family. We want these children reunited with their biological parents and that is the bottom line. We don't want anymore suffering that will take place with these children."
The Office of the Albany County Executive provided this statement on the judge's decision:
"We normally do not comment on cases involving our Department of Children, Youth and Families but because of the extensive media coverage we wanted to underscore our mission. In all cases, Albany County acts to ensure the safety and well being of children. We are dedicated to working with families to keep them together. When there are instances where the welfare of the children is in question, we do go to court. In this case, the judge agreed it was in the best interest of the children that they be placed in foster care. Albany County's Department of Children, Youth and Families has been doing whatever it can to assist the family in this very difficult period."
Amari's grandmother, Mary Alice Taylor, also expressed her frustration Friday. Taylor said she is extremely angry with the way the Albany Fire Department and Police handled the incident. But Albany Fire Chief Robert Forezzi tells NEWS 10 that the departments response time to the fire of 3 minutes and 31 seconds exceeded national standard response times and that his department immediately removed Amari from the home as soon as they arrived and entered the home. Forezzi said," It was an extreme rescue. Our firefighters incounted zero visibility, high heat and they put themselves at extrme risk to locate and rescue that child."
Vanness' Attorney Bernard Bryan says the family is due back in court on November 9th regarding the custody of the four children. Amari's four siblings were able to attend her funeral service Friday. All four children are staying together with one foster care family. During the service Amari's brother Deonte stood up and talked about how much he loved to play with her and how she often joked around. He also told service goers how Amari would always tell everyone that she loved them.
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