CUNY community mourns student who died in Twin Peaks fire


Macaulay Honors College

Ariana Purisic

Sera Janneh, a 27-year-old sophomore psychology major at Lehman College, died in the 19-story Twin Parks North West apartment fire in the Bronx on Jan. 9.

“As we share in the profound sadness of our CUNY colleagues at Lehman College, our Baruch College community offers our sincere condolences to the Janneh Family and acknowledges the pain and suffering of everyone, particularly members of the Gambian and Gambian American communities who lost family members and loved ones,” Baruch College Executive Chief Diversity Officer Elliott Dawes said in an email on Feb. 2.

When the fire broke out, Janneh and her family immediately attempted to escape their sixth-floor apartment. But unfortunately, Janneh separated from her family.

“When there was fire, we went to the fourth floor and the dark smoke was everywhere,” her father, Tijan Janneh, said, according to The New York Post. “The whole building’s lights had gone off. We couldn’t see each other.”

Her father tried to find her in the apartment, but the firefighters evacuated the family out of the building. The firefighters announced to Janneh’s parents that she had died while trying to escape their sixth-floor apartment.

She is one of seventeen people that died, making it the deadliest fire in New York City since the 1990s, per CNN. All of the victims died due to smoke inhalation, according to the city medical examiner.

“She was very kind, respectful, very humble and hard-working,” Tijan Janneh said. “She went to work all the time and was good at school. She had no problems. She was always helping and caring.”

Janneh belonged to the intimate community of Gambian immigrants in the Bronx and attended Lehman College in the hopes of becoming a social worker.

“We need more of that in our community, especially in the African community,” her sister
Mareama Janneh said to The New York Times.

“Several additional Lehman students list the Twin Parks tower as their address and we are
working to confirm that they are safe,” Lehman said about her death in a statement on Twitter.
“Our deepest condolences to the Janneh Family and all of those who have lost friends and loved
ones in Sunday’s fire.”

She was a gifted and memorable student who dedicated her passions toward African literature,
music, poetry and art, according to Lehman associate professor of Africana Studies Anne Rice,
who had a close relationship with her.

Rice was saddened by the death of the “wise and incandescent soul” because Janneh planned to
become a child psychologist and teach students in the classroom, as reported by the Bronx

Janneh pursued her teaching aspirations by working for the nonprofit organization Serious Fun
After School as a site supervisor in November 2021.

“Her joy and commitment to the work of Serious Fun was evident to all who met her,” the
nonprofit said in a statement concerning her death.

She was also a member of the Gambian Youth Organization, a nonprofit community group that
serves West African communities in the neighborhood. She helped manage its food pantry and
organize the group’s annual cultural Ms. Gambia pageant despite working multiple jobs.

The organization established a GoFundMe page, which raised $1,051,580 within four days to
support the families who suffered from the fire.

Her decade-long best friend, Breanna Elleston, remembered how supportive Janneh was when
she herself was displaced from her Brooklyn home last summer.

“She helped me out emotionally,” Elleston said, The New York Post reported.. “At times when I
wanted to isolate myself, she would push me to go out and go do something fun.”

CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez, expressed his sympathies about her death on Twitter.

“I’m deeply saddened to learn that Sera Janneh, a Lehman College sophomore studying
psychology, died as a result of the Bronx fire on Jan. 9,” he said. “On behalf of all at CUNY, my
condolences to the Janneh Family and the Lehman community.”