SEATTLE — An Ethiopian Orthodox Christian ceremony began with traditional chanting by religious leaders as a memorial service got under way Friday morning at Key Arena for the victims of last weekend’s fatal fire in Fremont.
A crowd of nearly 3,000 was expected to attend the event, many arriving by shuttle from Yesler Community Center, where the East African community has been gathering all week to grieve alongside the victims’ families, members of Seattle’s Ethiopian community.
Killed in the fire at Helen Gebregiorgis’ Fremont apartment were three of her children, Joseph Gebregiorgis, 13; Nisreen Shamam, 6; and Yaseen Shamam, 5; her sister, Yerusalem Gebregiorgis, 22; and a niece, 7-year-old Nyella Smith, daughter of a third sister, Yordanos Gebregiorgis.
The names of the dead were displayed on the electronic reader board above the gathering Key Arena crowd, many of them members of the area’s East African community and dressed in traditional attire, with women in flowing garments and white shawls known as netellas, which are worn at spiritual events.
Mayor Mike McGinn was expected to address the crowd, along with Maria Goodloe-Johnson, superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. Others expected to speak were local East African religious and community leaders, with a reading of a letter of condolence from the Ethiopian Consulate in Los Angeles.
A slideshow and musical presentation in honor of the dead was expected to conclude the event, which Daniel Gebregiorgis, brother of the Gebregiorgis sisters, said would mark the end of public mourning as the family turns its attention to helping Helen find a new home.
“We don’t know where Helen is going to go from here,” he said.
The Gebregiorgis siblings came to the U.S. n in 1989 along with their refugee parents, who had fled their war-torn native country.
The memorial, originally set for the center’s Exhibition Hall, was moved to Key Arena because of the large number of expected attendees. “We didn’t want to be in a position where people would have to be turned away,” said Seattle Center spokeswoman Deborah Daoust.
Some Seattle residents have questioned Mayor McGinn’s decision to provide the use of Key Arena for the service at taxpayer expense. Daoust said those costs — which she initially estimated at about $5,000 — were low because the arena was already configured for such a large-capacity stage event, having hosted several recent high-school graduation ceremonies.
– Marc Ramirez, Seattle Times