National News

Brooklyn Fire Kills Young Girls Visiting Their Grandfather

Posted December 9, 2018 5:34 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — Vincente Gomez always eagerly awaited his granddaughters’ arrival on Fridays.

Every other weekend, the girls, Payton Gomez, 7, and Haley Harris, 9, would stay with him in his three-bedroom apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Neighbors said they heard the girls watching TV this weekend and laughing alongside their “Papa.”

But the visit that Gomez, 53, so cherished ended in tragedy. The two girls were killed in a fire that broke out in the apartment Saturday at about 11 p.m., after they had all gone to sleep.

Firefighters were able to rescue the girls from a bedroom at the rear of the second-floor apartment, the deputy fire chief, James Smithwick, said. Once outside, rescuers tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate the girls, who were pronounced dead at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, police said.

A video of the fire showed flames spewing out of a second-floor window and glass breaking.

Gomez remained in the hospital Sunday, where he was in stable condition, police said.

The Fire Department said it was still investigating the cause of the fire, which took 106 firefighters to bring under control. The medical examiner will determine how the girls died.

On Sunday, as fire marshals collected evidence in the three-story building on Schaefer Street, Milton Pellot, who owns the building, fought back tears remembering Gomez’s grandchildren.

“They were the kindest little girls,” he said. “They loved their grandfather.”

Pellot said the girls called him “Papa Landlord.” He said Gomez often took his granddaughters to the park, and the three enjoyed watching movies in the apartment.

“That was his life,” Pellot said. “Ever since his wife passed, he said he would go crazy if he didn’t have them.”

He added: “All you heard all day was ‘Papa this’ and ‘Papa that.'”

Neighbors and friends struggled to describe how Gomez would cope with the loss of his two granddaughters only a few years after the death of his wife.

The girls had become the center of their grandfather’s life, friends in the neighborhood said. Gomez, a native of Ecuador, had recently retired from working in food production.

“He talked a lot about his granddaughters,” Luis Morell, 53, said inside the corner deli where Gomez was a regular customer.

“Losing two kids is really something,” said Larry Colon, a neighbor. “It’s going to be really hard for him.”