Fire, arson, and forensic investigators are at combing through the charred ruins of a Queens, New York, home that caught fire Sunday afternoon, killing five people younger than 20.
The fire stunned the local community, many of whom said they witnessed the flames and saw the young victims screaming for help from the attic of a multilevel home.
“I’m just here to pay my respects,” one neighbor told 1010 WINS/CBS Local. “To know that we lose five lives in the daytime, I just want to know what I can learn from this when it comes to safety even for my own family.”
The fire broke out around 2:30 p.m. Sunday. A person driving by the house called 911 after noticing it was smoking and then saw the father of one of the victims jumping out an upper-story window. That man, identified as Maurice Matthews, 46, was caught by people on the ground after jumping. Witnesses said the distraught man cried, “The kids! The kids!” repeatedly.
FDNY Firefighters arrived at the scene moments later, but the house was completely engulfed in flames. Some members of the community expressed shock at how quickly the fire spread and consumed the residence.
CBS News New York reports that the victims were Chayce Lipford, 2; Rashawn Matthews, 9; Melody Edwards, 17; Jada Foxworth, 16; and Destiny Dones, 20.
Rosetta Edwards, the mother of Melody, told CBS2 that her daughter was bright, beautiful, and friendly.
“I was preparing for her prom and her graduation and her acceptance into SUNY Purchase,” Ms. Edwards said. “I did not know my child was going to die in a fire.” She said Melody wanted to be a lawyer.
Jada Foxworth was a member of the cheerleading team at the Young Women’s Leadership School in Jamaica, Queens. The squad was selected to compete for the national cheerleading championship title at Disney World.
A friend of the victims told CBS News that the house was not equipped with smoke detectors, but that Dajuana Green, the mother of Rashawn, was out making some safety changes to the home when it caught fire.
“She was literally out buying smoke detectors for the house when the house caught fire,” the friend told CBS News.
Investigators said that they will investigate the disaster until they pinpoint the exact cause.
“Our fire marshals are investigating. They’ve been there all night and they’re there now,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro told CBS News. “They will find out what started this fire and where it started.”
Former FDNY Deputy Chief Jim Bullock told CBS News that the investigators will look at several scenarios.
“It’s possible it started in boiler. The boiler is a source of heat and flame,” Mr. Bullock said. “It could be electrical, these types of fire, and if there was a lot of combustible around where the electrical problem was, the fire would spread.”
He added that the home’s layout and the location of the victims at the time of the fire would play a big role in understanding why they did not survive.
“In a one- or two-family home, there’s usually only a front door out and maybe another back door from the kitchen,” Mr. Bullock told CBS News. “There is no way out from the second and third floor.”