National News

Grief consumes loved ones of New York apartment fire victims

Posted December 29, 2017 11:35 p.m. EST

— Fernando Batiz says he's "just numb" after the deadly fire that claimed the lives of 12 people in a Bronx apartment building.

A day after New York City's deadliest fire in more than 25 years, Batiz other family members were grappling with shock and grief upon learning an unsupervised toddler started the blaze.

Batiz lost his sister, Maria, and her 8-month-old grandson in the Thursday night blaze. He said the baby's mother wasn't home because she was working.

Late Friday, NYPD revealed the identities of several others killed in fire: Shantay Young, 19; Karen Francis, 37; Kylie Francis, 2; and Charmela Francis, 7.

The victims yet to be identified include a 63-year-old woman, four adult men and a male child, the New York Police Department said.

A fatal mistake

A 3-year-old boy's screams alerted his mother that a fire had erupted in their first-floor apartment Thursday night. The boy had been playing with the burners on the kitchen stove -- something he was known to have done before, New York fire officials said

When the mother fled the burning apartment with the boy and his 2-year-old sibling, she made a fatal mistake -- she left the apartment door open.

So each time someone opened a window, more oxygen rushed into the building and fanned the flames.

"Close the door, close the door, close the door," New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. "If there is a fire, you must close the door."

The child and his mother escaped their burning first-floor apartment. But another family on the fifth floor suffered unimaginable tragedy.

"My family's gone," Shevon Stewart told CNN affiliate WPIX.

Stewart said she lost her daughter, sister and two of her nieces to the flames-- four people from one family.

"I'm brokenhearted to know that a child ... you left the child unattended like that? Come on," she said, tears filling her eyes. "It's a lot."

Her nieces, Kylie and Charmela, were 2 and 7 years old.

The soldier home for Christmas

Soldier Emmanuel Mensah, 28, is believed to be among the dead, his father Kwabena Mensah told CNN. But authorities have not confirmed whether the son died in the blaze.

"I heard that he was trying to help people out. He brought people outside. He came, went back again, and I think on the third time he couldn't find his way out," Kwabena Mensah said.

Emmanuel is a 28-year-old Army soldier stationed in Virginia. His father said he was home for Christmas -- his first trip home since he enlisted a year ago.

'People were screaming'

The first call to the fire department came in Thursday evening, at 6:51 p.m. ET, the city's fire commissioner said.

"Bunch of calls on this one, chief," an official said over the radio as fire units rushed to the scene. "Baby trapped... apartment 13 is on the third floor. That's where the baby is."

"We've got people on the fire escape," another said.

"The stairway acted like a chimney," the fire commissioner said. "People had very little time to react ... they couldn't get back down the stairs. Those that tried, a few of them perished."

Grappling with loss

Survivors like Joel Rodriguez now wonder what to do next.

"I'm relieved I'm alive, but at the same time, it's like, where do I go?" the 40-year-old said.

The Red Cross is providing temporary housing, along with food, drinks, blankets and mental health care to those residents in need.

Ronn Torossian, who identified himself as a spokesman for the building's landlord, D&A Equities Incorporated, said he was "shocked and saddened at the loss of life and injuries."

"Our prayers and thoughts are with the families that were affected," he said.

So far, officials said they haven't found anything problematic about the building that led to the tragedy.

"We've lost so many people. We've lost children. There are four people fighting for their lives right now in hospitals," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told WNYC. "When you see something like this happen, it reminds us how precious life is."