At the foot of the altar in the cavernous church, six coffins — three of them child-sized and all but one white — lay in a semicircle, surrounded by a forest of flowers. Photographs of the dead sat atop each casket, along with balloons and stuffed toys.
Hundreds of mourners packed the pews Wednesday, seeking solace in song and prayer as they remembered six members of a family who perished when their house burst into flames on a frigid night last week. Sobs pierced the hymns and chants.
"This has been one of the greatest tragedies, to lose an entire family in one day," said the Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple in Northwest Baltimore. He recalled being "taken aback and jarred" by news of the deaths of his parishioners Richard and Elnora Satterfield, their granddaughter Tiara M. Gholston, 26, and her three children, Amari Reche Windley, 9, Darryon Amir Faulkner, 3, and Daelyn Azariah Faulkner, who had only just turned 1.
The sudden fatalities meant "a dark week for us," said the pastor. For the victims' relatives, "it's not going to be all right for a while. They're going to grieve, legitimately, for a season."
Andrew Malone, a city firefighter who is brother-in-law to Darryl Faulkner, father of the two youngest children, said it had been particularly difficult for family members to attend a viewing on Tuesday, even though the caskets were closed. But, he said, "everybody's holding up."
The Homewood Avenue blaze was the deadliest in a rash of fires that Baltimore has endured this month. A pair of five-alarm blazes downtown, on The Block and in Mount Vernon, inflicted extensive damage within 12 hours of each other. On Saturday, a house fire in East Baltimore's Homestead-Montebello neighborhood, not far from where the Satterfield fire had occurred, claimed another life.
The week's seven fire deaths pushed the city's total for the year to 19, the same number as in 2009. Statewide, there have been 69 deaths from fires this year, a slight decline from the same period last year, according to the governor's office.
Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake chose the day of the funeral to join other officials in urging Marylanders to be especially careful this holiday season with fire hazards such as Christmas decorations and heating appliances.
"Protecting the public's safety is the most solemn obligation we have as public servants," O'Malley said at an East Baltimore fire station, according to prepared remarks. "That includes protecting families from the fire hazards that typically come with the holidays, and ensuring that homes and businesses are equipped with the proper detection equipment to keep every Marylander safe."
O'Malley encouraged citizens to take advantage of energy-assistance programs provided by the state rather than attempt to use heating appliances that might be unsafe.
Fire officials have yet to determine a cause for the Dec. 14 blaze in the Satterfields' home on the 2300 block of Homewood Avenue. The fire was reported at 4:45 a.m., and when firefighters were able to go inside they discovered the six bodies.
At the service, each of the dead was remembered in turn. The Rev. Romaine Williams, of the Star Bethlehem AME Church, where Amari had sung in the choir, recalled the little girl's "contagious joy" and her ability to "brighten a day by her presence."
Another minister, the Rev. Frances Draper, remembered Darryon as "full of life," and said he "never met a person he didn't like, or a person whose name he could not remember."
The youngest, Daelyn, known to her mother as Doll or Dae Dae, was too young "to have any hobbies," her obituary in the service's printed program said, but "she left a lifetime of footprints on the hearts of everyone who met and embraced her."
The children's mother, a 2001 graduate of Lake Clifton High School, worked for several years as a counselor for the National Correctional Industries Association. Once Gholston had children, her obituary said, she devoted herself to them, occasionally indulging her hobby of baking and decorating cakes.
Gholston's grandparents, with whom she and her children were living when the fire broke out, had been married since 1961. Richard Satterfield worked at Gray Concrete Pipe Co. for 38 years until he retired, and his wife was a volunteer in the Baltimore schools for many years, their obituaries said.
Amari's father, William Windley, told the congregation that he was "all cried out" for the moment and then thanked everyone "for all the love and support that you've showed."
"This is just crazy for me," he went on. "I don't understand it. This place is just beautiful for me right now, because if I didn't have you I don't know where I'd be."
Then, turning toward his daughter's coffin, and with a catch in his voice, he said, "I love you, baby."
One of Amari's closes friends, Alonnie Fletcher, 10, read aloud a poem that Amari wrote earlier this month in their poetry class at Cecil Elementary School. The poem included her wish for "more mirrors, please," the claim that she was "in charge," and her conclusion that "it's a wonderful life." She ended with the line, "You can't hurt me."
Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young attended the service and said afterward that he had known Richard Satterfield for more than 20 years. "He was just a great guy," said Young. "We're close-knit families in East Baltimore. Everybody knows everybody."
Later in the day, at the Herman Williams Jr. Fire Station on East 25th Street, the governor and the mayor joined State Fire Marshall Bill Barnard and members of the Maryland State Firemen's Association to push the message of safety.
"This month, Baltimore's neighborhoods have seen first-hand the devastation caused by fires," Rawlings-Blake said in her prepared remarks. "The losses we suffered are tragic reminders of how important it is to protect yourself and your family from fire."
The mayor challenged allegations from a firefighters' union that closures of fire companies have constrained firefighters' ability to do their jobs. "Fire safety is a priority for my administration," she said. "Despite a $121 million deficit, which is equal to our entire firefighter force, we made the tough choices necessary to improve public safety for our citizens."
Rawlings-Blake said the city had "maintained every position in the Fire Department" and reduced rotating fire-company closures from four in fiscal 2010 to three in fiscal 2011. The plan, she said, is to "reduce the number of closures even further."
Bob Sledgeski, a spokesman for Baltimore Firefighters Union Local 734, which has repeatedly complained about reduced resources, said in an e-mail that "despite having one hand tied behind our backs by budget cuts and closings, your Baltimore firefighters will be on duty around the clock, doing our best to keep you safe."