Hundreds of mourners filled the True Love Missionary Baptist Church with love, tears and faith Saturday as they honored the lives of a woman and her 8-year-old daughter who died last month in a central valley fire.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, fire personnel and officials from the elementary school attended by second-grader Kaysha Ray were among those gathered at the church at 1941 H St. — right next to the apartment complex where the fire occurred.
The Jan. 19 fire at the Westlake Apartments — the deadliest in the history of the Las Vegas Fire Department — claimed the lives of Kaysha and her mother, 37-year-old Diana Bankston. Bankston’s husband, 39-year-old Andrew Ray, was found just outside the family’s apartment suffering from severe burns and smoke inhalation and died days later.
Eric Littman, president of Las Vegas Fire & Rescue Local 1285, said the tragic loss of lives was compounded by the fact that Bankston’s stepfather, Charles Smith, is a retired fire captain.
When Littman learned of the tragedy, he helped secure funds from an anonymous donor from Summerlin’s Temple Sinai, 9001 Hillpointe Road, for the burial and service for Bankston and Kaysha.
“Pain shared is pain lessened,” Littman told those gathered at the service, adding that he hopes memories will help keep the family strong.
Goodman shared her condolences on Smith’s tragic loss of a daughter and a granddaughter.
“There is nothing more painful or more difficult to move forward through than the loss of a child, to say nothing of the loss of a grandchild,” she said.
“It’s a sadness that’s felt throughout Las Vegas,” Goodman added, while noting that “with our love and God,” the family and community will cope with the loss.
Alaina Criner, principal of Kelly Elementary School, told mourners the energetic, bubbly Kaysha embodied the motto emblazoned on the shirts worn to the service by school staff: “Be kind.”
“We truly believe that Kaysha taught us how to be kind,” Criner said.
Kaysha’s teacher, Trecia Coleman, remembered a little girl full of life who would “hug so hard.”
Singer becoming emotional during this tribute pic.twitter.com/MOJ8CF3Esu
— Pashtana U. (@pashtana_u) February 4, 2017
“As a teacher, kids become part of our hearts,” she said in tears. “It’s your worst nightmare to imagine you would never see them again. I’m just blessed to have known her.”
Bankston, a homemaker who’d served in the Army, was just as spirited and friendly, family friend Robin Dortch said. But she was also tough.
“She had a tongue like a razor blade if you crossed her,” she said. “They were full of life. It’s a shame that they had to go so soon.”
Many attending the service became emotional as they heard how Andrew Ray tried repeatedly to get back into the apartment to save his wife and daughter. But the congregants seemed comforted knowing the family had moved on to a better place.
“The Lord is our source. The Lord is our help. The Lord is our strength,” a pastor shouted toward the end of the service. Mourners responded by clapping and shouting joyfully, with many rising to their feet.
The family’s two teen daughters — Iyana Bankston-Wright and Jada Ray — were able to escape the fire through a broken window, according to officials and a GoFundMe page created to amass funds for the father’s funeral. The fundraiser had collected $2,280 of its $25,000 goal by Saturday afternoon.
Farhan Naqvi, the Las Vegas attorney representing Jada Ray, said Andrew Ray’s family does not have enough money to bury him.
Kaysha's teacher speaking. Says the 8-year-old central valley resident who died in fire last month, would "hug so hard," was full of life. pic.twitter.com/xwtPA6DGVt
— Pashtana U. (@pashtana_u) February 4, 2017
The apartment fire, which was reported about 1 a.m., is believed to have been an accident and might have been smoking-related, but investigators have been unable to determine the exact cause, the fire department said Thursday.
Department spokesman Tim Szymanski said the complex, at 801 W. Lake Mead Blvd. on the corner of West Lake Mead Boulevard and H Street, complied with all of the department’s instructions after it failed its most recent fire inspection.
Records obtained Wednesday by the Las Vegas Review-Journal showed the complex failed a May 2016 inspection because of problems with bars on unit windows, rear exits chained shut and outdated fire alarm systems. The complex failed a 2011 inspection for the same reasons.