AFRICANGLOBE – Hours before a fire swept through their bedroom, killing their younger sister and cousin, the two boys who survived had been watching Batman cartoons, they said in an interview.
When the blaze broke out at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday in their West Englewood home, Darnell, 7, and Marquis, 4, managed to run out a back door with the help of their aunt, they said.
But their sister and cousin — identified by the Cook County medical examiner’s office as Javaris Meakens, 2, and Jariyah Meakens, 3 — perished in the blaze.
“When the fire started, everything shut off,” said Darnell. “Auntie came to get us. When (she) saw the fire, she called all our names. When I opened the door, she told me, ‘Come on, the fire’s getting closer.’”
Authorities said no adults were present to supervise the young children when the fire broke out. The mothers of the dead children were being questioned by Chicago police but no charges had been filed as of late Saturday. Authorities did not release the women’s names.
The cause was also still under investigation, though officials said it appeared a hot plate, possibly being used to heat the room, fell onto some clothes, igniting the fire.
The children said that after they were questioned by authorities in the home of a neighbor who took the boys in when the fire broke out. Four adult women were present at the time.
Firefighters arrived at the scene in the 6400 block of South Paulina Street to find flames shooting out of a bedroom and smoke throughout the first-floor apartment, said James Mungovan, the Deputy District Chief for District 5 with the Chicago Fire Department.
At first, firemen concentrated on getting water to the blaze, Mungovan said. Once the fire was extinguished, they learned the two children did not survive, he said.
“We got here in a timely matter. We got water on the fire and we made our searches which revealed two deceased people,” he said. “The fire had advanced to the stage where it was open free-burning.”
Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said firefighters found no working smoke detectors in the building. On Saturday morning, a crew went door to door on the block offering free smoke detectors to neighbors and talking to them about fire safety.
Earlier that morning, as firefighters battled the blaze, neighbors Michelle Washington and Tiffany Williams saw the two boys standing outside without coats and shoes, they said.
They invited the boys into their home to keep warm.
Washington said the boys told her that they had gone to sleep and, when woke up, they saw fire and smoke.
“They looked shaken and scared,” Washington said. “The kids was here all night.”
It was at Washington’s home that investigators from the Bomb and Arson unit and the Office of Fire Investigations interviewed the boys, the women said.
The children were later taken into protective custody by the Department of Children and Family Services.
News of the younger children’s deaths shook up the West Englewood block and riled up neighbors who said they often saw Darnell walking home alone from school.
Some neighbors said there was no gas service at the house, which is why the family was using the hot plate to keep warm.
The family had lived on the block for about a year and a half, said neighbor Ken Allison. Neighbors often saw the women with their children, he said, but they were not well known.
“There’s no way they should have left those kids alone,” he said.