An extra-alarm fire in an apartment building early Tuesday in the South Chicago neighborhood claimed four lives, including three children and a man. Police held a person of interest and questioned the suspect.
The blaze happened in a three-story building in the 8100 block of South Essex Avenue, and it took the life of a 3-month-old baby. The deceased baby was found next to a dead man who had jumped (with the baby) from the building to escape the fire. The bodies of two more children were found near the scene of the blaze.
Fire officials said the stairwells caught fire, and as a result, the residents found it difficult to escape the building. Neighbors who witnessed the action told police that they saw the 48-year-old man with an infant jump from the third floor. The child was immediately rushed to Comer Children’s Hospital, where he or she was declared dead. The identity of the child has not yet been released. The deaths of the other two children were confirmed by the Cook County Medical Examiner, but no other information was revealed. Two more injured people were taken to South Shore Hospital. One of them was listed in fair to serious condition and the other was listed in good condition, the fire officials confirmed. The fire was doused at around 4:45 a.m.
However, CBS Chicago reported that relatives confirmed that the three deceased kids were sisters: 3-month-old Melanie Watson, 4-year-old Madison Watson, and 7-year-old Shaniyah Staples.
Firefighters responded to a fire alarm just after 1:35 a.m. Heavy flames had already engulfed the second and the third floors by the time they had arrived. The fire status was upgraded to three alarms just before 1:55 a.m.
Lanita Smith, a resident of the building, said, “It was so scary because you’re running around and there’s nothing you can get. It’s just the nick of the time. You’ve got to hurry up and get out. You don’t know what’s happening. The fire was upstairs and downstairs when I came into the hallway. I didn’t actually know where it was coming from.”
The man suspected of starting the fire, who is currently in police custody, apparently had an argument with someone in the building, a source told the Chicago Tribune.
A woman, who was probably aware of what happened, stood near the building and yelled, “I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him.”
As ABC7 Chicago reported, “[A] neighbor said a well-known, mentally unstable man from the neighborhood knocked on her door around 1 a.m. asking for money. She said when she told him no, she believed he retaliated by setting the place on fire. The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The Chicago Police Bomb and Arson Unit are questioning the woman and looking into her story.”
The neighbor, Latoya Terry, said, “He was at my back door. He was the only one at my back door, and when I closed my door in his face and told him I ain’t have nothing for him, he was kicking and beating and bamming at my door, and I ignored him, and I went into my bedroom. When I went in my bedroom, I got on the phone. Next thing I know, the dog’s barking, and I get up to go see why my dog’s barking. At this point in time, I didn’t even see no flames yet,”
The building, which is managed by Villa Capital Properties, actually failed an annual inspection in November of 2015. This was revealed in the city records maintained by the Department of Buildings. Inspectors then issued building code citations for the following reasons: they couldn’t access “most dwelling units” to verify smoke detectors and conditions, mice droppings were found in one apartment, a porch was found to be defective or missing parts, and a porch needed repairs.
[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]