Hundreds of mourners, including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, attended the funerals of Avigail and Yael Gross Thursday afternoon at Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuhot cemetery.
The sisters, aged 1 and 4, died Wednesday after an exterminator treated their family home with a poisonous substance that also left their two brothers fighting for their lives.
Shimon Gross, the girls’ father, did not express anger during his eulogy, but asked the assembled mourners to pray for the two boys, Yitzhak, 5, and Michael, 7, who were hospitalized at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, located in Petah Tikva.
“I ask from Avigail and Yael,” he continued, “ask for the mercy of heaven for your brothers, a healing of the body and soul.”
Gross broke down and cried when he stepped up to the podium.
“The Lord gives and the Lord takes. Praise the name of the Lord,” he said, quoting from the Book of Job.
When God requests a soul prematurely, said the bereaved father, “maybe we weren’t worthy of keeping these gifts we were so fortunate to receive. In two weeks, Avigail was to have her fourth birthday, a pure and unblemished girl. Yael just started to speak, to say ‘Aba’ and ‘Ima.’ What a sweetheart, she was a pure soul. What good friends they were; it is unbelievable.
“We are not involved in assigning blame, we will let the authorities investigate the matter. For now, we are busy saving the lives of our sons.”
On Thursday, a mother and her 3-year-old child arrived at the Terem clinic in Jerusalem’s Romema neighborhood showing symptoms similar to those that the Gross family displayed when they first turned to health professionals. The mother said that her home had been treated by an exterminator who has been under arrest for the deaths of the two Gross girls, Maariv reported.
Tests turned up negative, but the two were sent to Sha’arei Tzedek hospital as a precaution.
Earlier Thursday, a judge extended until Friday the remand of the exterminator who treated the house with the poisonous substance.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Shimon and his wife Michal Thursday night to offer his condolences.
“The nation of Israel cries with you and embraces you,” he told the bereaved parents, according to the prime minister’s Facebook page. “Our thoughts are with you in this difficult hour. We mourn the deaths of Yael and Avigail of blessed memory, and pray for the welfare of the boys.”
Doctors were working to stabilize two of the girls’ brothers, who were put on ECMO machines that provide both cardiac and respiratory support. Doctors said late Thursday there had been a slight improvement in their condition, but their lives were still in danger.
The exterminator will be under arrest for one more day and then spend three days under house arrest at the home of his lawyer, Moshe Shiffman.
The exterminator had used the material before without any problem, Shiffman said on Thursday at the remand hearing.
The exterminator had visited the family’s home in the Givat Mordechai neighborhood on Monday. He reportedly used aluminum phosphide, which, when mixed with water, reacts to release phosphine, an extremely harmful gas.
The exterminator reportedly left a container of the poisonous material inside a room that he sealed with masking tape, intending to return to continue his work.
Shiffman said on Thursday that his client was an experienced, veteran professional and that there was no reason to keep him locked up.
“Just after this happened and even before the police got to him, he rushed to the hospital to help pass on information about the material he used to the doctors,” the lawyer said. “This is a substance he’s used for a long time. It’s tablets and it’s not clear to me that there’s a limit on the amount you can use.”
After falling ill, the girls were rushed to the hospital on Wednesday along with the rest of their family, but doctors were unable to save their lives.
The boys suffered severe damage to their cardiac muscles and doctors were fighting to save them, but the hospital noted that there was no known antidote to the toxin and that their lives were “definitely in danger.”
“The heart is suffering a lot from the poison that injured them,” Efrat Baron-Harlev, deputy director of the Schneider Medical Center, told Channel 10. The hope is that the hospital’s pulmonary and cardiac machines will give the boys’ hearts a recovery period to return to normal function.
“If that will happen or not, only time will tell,” she said.
The couple had sought medical help on Tuesday evening, after their five children began suffering from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The parents took their children to an emergency clinic believing it was a case of food poisoning and apparently didn’t tell doctors about the extermination work that had been conducted in the apartment. Doctors told the parents to use painkillers and then obtain stomach medication in the morning if the symptoms continued. However, by midday Wednesday the family was severely stricken by the fumes.
Following the deaths of the children, the clinic issued a statement expressing regret over the loss of life, but claimed the tests indicated no symptoms of poisoning.
“The tests did not uncover any suspicious finds,” the statement read. “After receiving the results of the tests and providing treatment for nausea, [the clinic] released the family home.” The clinic said it had launched an investigation of the incident.
Aluminium phosphide, also known by its trade name phostoxin, was found in “very, very high concentrations” in the apartment. The Environmental Protection Ministry, which oversees pest control, said that though the pesticide was approved for use in Israel, the dosage used at the house was apparently well over that suitable for home use.
According to Channel 2, between 2008 and 2012, 63 Israelis were hospitalized for phosphine toxicity.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.