By Sonja Sharp and Wil Cruz
MIDTOWN — Inconsolable mother Madonna Badger tearfully remembered her young daughters — who were killed along with her parents in a devastating Christmas Day fire at their Stamford, Conn. home — at their somber funeral Thursday as dancers, singers and little angels.
Badger, who escaped the horrific blaze along with her friend Michael Borcina, joined the girls' father Matthew Badger, and hundreds of mourners to say goodbye to Lily, 10, and twins Grace and Sarah, who were 7, at the St. Thomas Church on 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue.
"They were my little girl tribe," said Badger as she choked back tears. "And I want you to hear about them from me.
"My girls are in my heart, and that is where they live now, and they live in me. I want to remember my girls out loud."
The girls' father was so distraught that he could not speak. Instead, the priest, Rev. Dr. William Shillady read a heart-wrenching note to the rapt mourners, many of whom broke down during the service.
"A day with Lily was like a day with a beautiful song," the dad said in the note. "She was so vulnerable and beautiful. She always wanted a grown up around her at night — in the end, she was right."
The fatal fire, sparked by ashes from the fireplace that were left near the house, ripped through the 100-year-old building, trapping Badger's daughters and parents, Lormer and Pauline Johnson, inside.
Lormer Johnson, a former Saks Fifth Avenue Santa Claus, was found near the body of one of the girls and was believed to have been trying to save her, according to reports.
And in a tragic twist, investigators believe the ashes were removed so that the girls wouldn't worry about Santa coming down the chimney, the Associated Press said. They are also trying to determine if the house, which was under renovation, had working smoke detectors.
As the family processed behind the girls' identical coffins draped in lillies and other flowers, mourners moved into the aisle to embrace the grieving parents.
Several rows were packed with Stamford firefighters who fought desperately to free the trapped family but were pushed back by intense smoke and flames.
Madonna Badger, who once lived in Manhattan and was an art director for Calvin Klein, remembered her first daughter Lily as a shrinking violet who loved to sing and dance.
"Lily was the angel of my heart and my first baby," Badger recalled. "She made up songs constantly."
She loved dolls and her stuffed animals, "but most of all she loved her sisters," Badger said.
The eldest girl had asked her mother about dying, Badger said. On a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lily, then 5-years-old, collapsed to the floor and begged her mom to tell her when she would die.
"I told her life is a mystery," Badger said. "We never know when we're going to die. And she accepted that."
One of Lily's friends, Audrey, 9, grave the grieving mom a poem she wrote entitled "Hope," which she read aloud at the service.
Grace, a second grader, was the explorer of the three girls, who loved making crafts and excelled at math.
"For Christmas she wanted a microscope and a telescope," said her heartbroken mom. "Grace asked me a thousand times if she was going to die before me. I said, 'No, No, that's never going to happen,' but it happened."
Her inseparable twin Sarah was remembered as the social butterfly of the pair with a big heart — relishing the opportunity to pass out Christmas cookies at an old age home with her grandfather.
Sarah was so popular, in fact, that her schoolmates competed for her attention.
"The principal had to call a meeting of second grade girls so they could figure out how to take turns being close to Sarah," Badger said.
But mostly, she was mommy's little girl.
"Sarah used to like to lie in my bed and tell me how much she loved me," said a weeping Badger, who was consoled at the funeral by the girls' father Matthew Badger and Borcina.
"Sarah was so lovable and vibrant," her dad said in his note. "She saw the goodness in all of us."
Mourners — among whom were singer Lou Reed, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and clothing mogul Calvin Klein — were touched by the Badgers' strength throughout the ordeal.
"I can't imagine how they're even standing up," said James Gilroy, a family friend. "I thought what she said was just beautiful."
As a parent himself, Gilroy said he could scarcely imagine losing a child, much less three.
"I have a little girl 11 years-old." Gilroy said. "It's the worst thing I've ever heard."
After the service ended, Madonna Badger wept loudly as she walked out of the church.
"Grace was fearless," she said.
"Nothing will bring my parents back, or my children. In all this incomprehensible loss and chaos love is everything," she said. "I used to say I could never ever live through losing my babies — but here I am."
Donations in memory of the children can be made to The Other 364 Foundation. Further information can be found here.