Southfield: Mother of God Chaldean Catholic Church was barely large enough to contain the hundreds of mourners who attended a funeral Mass Friday honoring two West Bloomfield children who died Sunday in a tubing accident on Sylvan Lake.
The services come as authorities’ conduct a preliminary investigation into the fatal accident in which Alexander Mansour, 11, and little sister, Gabrielle, 6, were struck by a boat as their father John Mansour pulled them in a tube behind a Jet Ski on Sylvan Lake. Both Alexander and Gabrielle died following the accident. A third sibling, 10-year-old Adriana, remains hospitalized with severe injuries.
Vehicles began filing into the church on Berg Road about an hour before the Mass which began at noon. By 11:45 a.m., the large parking lot behind the church was full, and Southfield Police officers blocked the lot’s two entrances.
Churchgoers parked on side streets, in some cases several blocks away, and trekked in the 92-degree heat, most of them wearing black clothes and somber expressions.
“It’s a terrible thing, what happened to those children,” said Larry Yaldoo, who lives three houses away from the Mansours. “We pray for them.”
Since the accident, Metro Detroit’s Chaldean community has united in grief for the family, with members of churches in Troy, Oak Park and Sterling Heights praying for them, too.
About 15 minutes after Friday’s Mass was scheduled to begin, an ambulance arrived and an emergency worker treated one of the mourners. A police officer on the scene said the person had collapsed, probably from the heat, but that there appeared to be no serious danger.
Church officials had asked the media to not cover the services inside the church, which The News honored, speaking to people across the street from the church.
“It was very packed inside,” said Najwan Cholagh, who said she was “best friends” with the Mansour family. “They opened up a different room and we watched the Mass on television.
“The priest said because the parents have been unable to talk, he talked for them,” she said. “He thanked everybody and said to pray for the other daughter who’s still in the hospital.”
Dr. Robert Hasbany appeared shaken as he walked out of the church.
“I live right there on the lake,” he said. “I had just left home (when the accident happened). I’m friends with (the driver of the boat that hit the children). I’ve been trying to get a hold of him, but nobody’s been home. He’s a beautiful person; I’m sure he feels just terrible about it.”
The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the deaths, said the incident was being considered an accident.
Pulling a tube behind a Jet Ski is legal but a preliminary investigation found the watercraft was not occupied by an independent “spotter” as required by law.
Using a spotter is considered a critical safety measure and failing to have a spotter is a ticket able offense, officials said.
Officials said the driver of the other boat, a 56-year-old Sylvan Lake man who was alone at the time of the incident, has told investigators he saw the Jet Ski but wasn’t aware it was pulling a tube with children behind it. The results of physical testing, including toxicology of the boater, could take a month or two to complete.
Investigators have been trying to determine if the watercraft were traveling counter-clockwise around the lake, as required.
The initial report was that the Jet Ski was southbound on the lake, when the boat traveling east drove over the tow line and tube carrying the three children.
Witnesses said the lake was exceptionally busy with boat traffic on Sunday. Since the accident, however, that’s changed, Hasbany said.
“I was on the lake last night, and there was only one or two other boats,” he said. “There’s been a big difference (since the accident); usually that’s a busy, private lake. People will probably stay away for a few days until they get comfortable enough to go on the lake again.”