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Mom gives tearful goodbye to 3 daughters killed in Christmas Day fire

From Julian Cummings, CNN
January 6, 2012 -- Updated 0944 GMT (1744 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A public funeral is held in Manhattan's St. Thomas Church
  • NEW: The service was for three young girls who died in a house fire in Stamford, Connecticut
  • The fire occurred on Christmas Day
  • A private service for the family was held on Wednesday

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A crowd gathered Thursday for an emotional funeral in Manhattan's St. Thomas Church, where hundreds paid their respects to three young girls who died in a house fire in Stamford, Connecticut, on Christmas Day.

"My girls are in my heart," Madonna Badger, the girls' mother, told a room full of mourners in a brief reading at the midtown church.

"They are right here," she said, referring to her heart during the hourlong service. "This is where they live now."

The family of Lily, 10, and 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah Badger -- who died in the fire along with their grandparents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson -- held a private service Wednesday.

"Nothing, not even death, will separate you from the love that Lily, Sarah and Grace brought to this life," said William Shillady of the United Methodist City Society.

Deadly Christmas fire kills five people

The fire, which broke out around 5 a.m. Christmas Day in a three-story Victorian home, is believed to have been caused by smoldering embers removed from a fireplace, according to Stamford Chief Fire Marshal Barry Callahan.

Authorities said that Lomer Johnson fell through the roof rafters outside a window. One of the children's bodies was found just inside the window.

It appeared that Johnson was trying to get the child out, but died after climbing through the window, acting Fire Chief Antonio Conte said. The medical examiner's office said Johnson suffered from smoke inhalation in addition to trauma from the fall.

The girls' mother and a friend escaped the blaze.

CNN affiliate WFSB reported that Badger attempted to climb the renovation scaffolding outside the home in an apparent attempt to reach her family.

Authorities said it was unclear whether the home had working smoke detectors.

The city of Stamford later razed the three-story home, which was under renovation, after determining it was unsafe.

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