Hope Mills, N.C. — A Special Forces soldier died trying to rescue his young daughters from their burning, century-old home just outside Hope Mills early Tuesday.
Edward Duane Cantrell, 36, and Louise Cantrell, 37, jumped from the second floor of the house at 4151 Pecan Drive to escape the fire, said Debbie Tanna, spokeswoman for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office.
He then wrapped himself in blanket and rushed back into the burning home to try rescue 6-year-old Isabella and 4-year-old Natalia.
Meanwhile, Louise Cantrell ran to a nearby nursing home and called for help around 1:50 a.m. She then waited outside for her husband to come out with their children.
Firefighters, though, found Edward Cantrell and the two girls dead inside the home. Tanna said they apparently died of smoke inhalation.
"It's terrible. Special Forces, they can go out and save America, but they can't save the children. It's heartbreaking," family acquaintance Cindy Jacobs said.
Louise Cantrell was taken to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center to be treated for smoke inhalation.
The family dog, a Rottweiler named Sasha, also survived. A neighbor is caring for the dog.
Edward Cantrell, a recipient of four Bronze Star medals and a Purple Heart, served with the 3rd Special Forces Group based at Fort Bragg. He recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.
Isabella was a kindergartner at Ed Baldwin Elementary School.
"You would walk past her in the hallway, and she'd be the one who'd come up to you and grab your leg, give you that hug, very loving," Ed Baldwin Elementary principal Todd Yardis said. "She was very loved. You could see that in her parents, that she was used to people caring about her."
Jacobs said she often saw the mom and dad playing with their daughters in the yard.
The family's home, built in the 1920s with some newer additions, burned easily, Tanna said.
"You're dealing with tinder-box conditions considering that you're trying to put out a fire in a house of this age," she said.
The roof of the home collapsed, and flames charred the outside of the front door and windows on both floors. Firefighters were still putting out hot spots four hours after the blaze started.
Tanna said the fire does not appear to be suspicious. Homicide and arson investigators are trying to determine the cause of the fire, which is standard procedure.
The home had fire detectors, she said, and firefighters heard them beeping when they arrived.