NEW YORK - Hundreds of people streamed into a historic church in the heart of Manhattan on Thursday for the funeral of three young girls who died along with their grandparents during a Christmas morning fire in Stamford, Conn.
The "Service in Thanksgiving for the Lives of Lilian, Sarah and Grace Badger" was held at St. Thomas Church, a historic Episcopal congregation housed in a French High Gothic style stone edifice.
The program featured a photo of a laughing 9-year-old Lily and her 7-year-old sisters, Sarah and Grace with tousled hair and flowered dresses.
Lilies were part of the three floral arrangements in the nave of the church, still decorated with faux evergreen boughs from Christmas.
The readings included well-known Bible passages: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not," and "For every time there is a season."
A private service will be held later at Woodlawn Cemetery for the girls and their grandparents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson.
Authorities have told The Associated Press that embers in a bag of discarded ashes started the blaze. They had been taken out of a fireplace so the children wouldn't worry about Santa coming down the chimney.
The girls' mother, Madonna Badger, and a friend, Michael Borcina, were treated at a hospital.
Fire officials have said Borcina is believed to have placed the ashes in or outside an entryway, near the trash.
On Wednesday, Badger leaned on the arms of two funeral home workers as she attended a wake for her children and parents.
The victims died of smoke inhalation. Grandfather Lomer Johnson also suffered a blunt head and neck trauma, which resulted from a fall or being hit by an object.
One of the girls, found dead just inside a window, had been placed on a pile of books, apparently so Johnson could reach in and grab her after he jumped out. Instead, authorities say, he fell through the roof.
Stamford police are helping fire officials investigate the blaze. Police said Monday officials want to know whether there were smoke alarms, the status of renovation work on the house and whether the contractor had permits.
The issue of permits could figure in the investigation because the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection has said that neither Borcina nor his company, Tiberias Construction Inc., was registered to perform home improvement work in Connecticut.
Contractors are required to register with the state, though numerous building and other permits are issued by local officials.
The agency said it did not yet have enough information about what work may have been done or completed and would not comment on whether it will investigate.
Facebook messages have been left for Borcina. Repeated attempts to contact him since the fire have been unsuccessful.
Stamford authorities deemed the house unsafe following the fire and ordered it torn down the day after.
Fire Chief Antonio Conte said the fire was Stamford's deadliest since a 1987 blaze that also killed five people.