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May 23, 2019

Family, friends gather to mourn mother and daughter killed in raging Brownsville blaze

September 30, 2018
Portraits of fire victims Vernia Roberts (l.) and her daughter Victoria Roberts in the program for their double funeral in Crown Heights on August 24, 2018. (The Roberts Family)

A Brooklyn mother and daughter, together in life for 54 years, were united one last time Friday at a double funeral mourning the two fire victims.

Family matriarch Vernia Roberts was honored as the glue that kept her large extended family together, while her daughter Victoria — known by the nickname Tutu — was remembered as a private person with a love for children. The two women perished one week earlier inside the burning Brownsville apartment they shared.

“I’m sad and heartbroken and I just feel bad,” said Sheila Roberts, 57, about the crippling loss of her mother and her sister. “Now we have to rely on each other for all the support that my mom gave us all.”

Roberts, 79, was known as “Aunt Betty” to family members who recalled her as a deeply religious woman who loved to cook, talk and sing at church.

“She was a wonderful mother,” said son Jessie Roberts, 53, at the Frank R. Bell Funeral Home service. “She was always beautiful with people and everything. She had a beautiful heart.”

Vernia’s brother recounted how the Georgia native served as the family’s “director,” keeping track of various events while never missing a birthday or a holiday. Vernia moved into the building where she died back in 1978.

The grandmother of six and godmother of three “was a very passionate and sweet person … always doing everything with that beautiful smile of hers,” according to the funeral program. The two coffins were blanketed by large pink and white floral arrangements for the service.

Vernia and her 54-year-old daughter were killed by an intense Aug. 17 fire that filled their apartment building with flames and thick smoke.

Missing from the jam-packed funeral were two family members who survived the blaze: Vernia’s son Keith Roberts and her sister Cylister Scarlett. Both remained in critical condition at Jacobi Medical Center.

All four relatives were found unresponsive in their second-floor home on Eastern Parkway after the three-alarm fire that started in their building’s ground floor deli.

Attorney Sanford Rubenstein, speaking at the funeral, said an independent probe was underway as to the cause of the deadly fire in a building without smoke detectors.

“We will get to the bottom of this,” he said. “This should not be happening in this city. It’s a horrible tragedy for the family and an appropriate legal action will be taken.”

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