New Haven Register, Conn.
May 15—NEW HAVEN — Cathy Foster-Mendez, the mom of fallen firefighter Ricardo Torres Jr., gave thanks to the community Saturday at an intimate, powerful prayer vigil, telling the group, “If anyone would lay their life on the line for anyone, it was Ricardo.”
“He was a good boy, he was a good man. He loved and cared about everyone,” and a great dad, Foster-Mendez said of her son who always wanted to be afirefighter and paid the ultimate price.
The vigil was held outside Pitts Chapel Unified Free Will Church, to honor Torrres and pray for his family, pray for the recovery of critically injured firefighter Samod “Nuke Rankins,” who is making progress in the burn unit at Bridgeport Hospital and to honor another firefighter, William McMillian, 27, who died unexpectedly May 6. McMillian leaves a daughter, 5. Torres died and Rankins was injured fighting the same fire on Valley Street Wednesday during the wee hours of the morning.
Torres’ young widow, Erica Torres, was escorted to the prayer vigil in a black SUV driven by a fire captain, who conveyed the message that she didn’t want to be photographed or interviewed by any of the numerous newspaper and television reporters present.
A composed Erica Torres, who is pregnant, stood off to the side, chatting with a stream of people and got minuteslong embraces. The couple also has a toddler.
Erica Torres could be heard thanking people for the prayers, the vigil, and inquiring warmly about Rankins’ condition, as he was a close friend.
Pitts Chapel is the church of Rankins’ mother and several of their family members. His mom, Novella Guiont, couldn’t attend because she’s staying in the hospital by her youngest child’s side, but sent her thanks.
The small, yet mightily spiritual group of about 25 people, held hands and heard brief, healing words of church pastor, Bishop Elijah Davis and others.
Church member Lorise Brown, who organized the vigil, said she got the vigil idea because the Bible states that when two or three are gathered together for one purpose, God will be in the midst and in this case, God will go to Bridgeport Hospital and “bless” Rankins.
“He’s off the vent and God is working miracles,” Brown said.
Rankins, 28, a popular figure in the community because of his work on behalf of the less fortunate, the school children and the marginalized in society, was pulled unconscious from the burning house on Valley Street after issuing a mayday call, as did Torres.
It looked at first as if Rankins might not pull through as he suffered severe smoke inhalation — but like the fighting, determined man he’s known as — turned a corner Wednesday and began breathing on his own when they removed the ventilator. Although he’s being directed not to talk as his throat heals, Rankins’ mind is clear, those close to him say, and in a really telling sign that Nuke was back, he started writing orders for his mom on a note bad.
Retired firefighter Gary Tinney, vice president of the International Association of Black Firefighters said in another milestone Saturday that Rankins sat up for the first time. Tinney said Rankins sent a “thank you” for all the community prayers.
The Flaming Knights Motorcycle Club did a drive by at the church on residential Brewster Street, then joined the sidewalk vigil.
Rankins’ great uncle, Joe J. Davis, a retired state police captain said his great nephew is “coming along, but he has a long way to go,” to full recovery.
Davis said Nuke has always been the kind of kid “who doesn’t mind obstacles” and has the determination and skill to get around them.
Davis said Rankins’ philosophy has always been to “aim high, don’t give up and you can achieve your dream.”
Another vigil attendee, Donna Santiago, said she’s known the Rankins for years, and that Nuke Rankins pinned her nephew when he joined the fire service.
Santiago said helping others is Rankins’ “calling.”
“God’s got a bigger plan for him, I believe,” she said.
Mendez, Torres’ mom, thanked all for coming to the vigil, and for the comforting prayers and support from the firefighters and the community.
“The support system has been amazing,” she said. “They say it’s a brotherhood and it really is.”
Mendez said she’s enjoyed hearing stories about her son.
“It’s a lot of sadness, but God is awesome to lift us,” said Rankins’ cousin Sean Hardy, a member of the church.
Toward the end of the event, a small, spontaneous prayer huddle formed to include Torres’ wife and mom.
“Teach us to love one another,” was part of the prayer said by Sharyn L. Grant. “Bring us together — Black, white, purple.”
Donations are pouring in to help the family of Torres, McMillian and Rankins. As of Saturday afternoon, GoFundMe campaigns had raised $241,482 for the Torres family, $7,681 for McMillian’s daughter and $11,655 for Rankins in less than two days.
Tinney said the three are all part of a tight-knit group of young firefighters who studied together and worked hard to become firefighters.
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