JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi woman and her four young children — ages 2 to 7 — died Saturday as a result of an early-morning fire at their Jackson apartment, authorities said,
Chief Fire Investigator Greg Travis said the fire broke out on the second story of an apartment building shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday. Investigators believe the fire may have started in the kitchen, but the cause is still under investigation. Travis said the mother and two of the children were found dead in a bedroom; two other children were pulled from the building but died after they were taken to a hospital.
"It was an upstairs apartment, and firefighters found heavy smoke and flames coming from the apartment when they arrived," he said. "The entire roof of the apartment was engulfed in flames."
Family members identified the mother as 28-year-old Dominique Henderson and her four children as daughter Akyerria, 7, and sons Bryceston, 4, Cylor, 3, and Ethan, 2.
On Saturday evening, Linda Henderson walked slowly around the apartment building talking to friends and family, wondering how she would cope with the loss of her daughter and grandchildren.
"They said it was something to do with the stove. They said it was an accident. I just know my babies are gone, all five of them," Henderson said, shaking her head.
She said her daughter, whom everyone called "Niqui," was "the backbone of this family."
"She was the funny one," Linda Henderson said.
Yellow police tape was wrapped around the burned-out shell of the red-brick, two-story apartment building with white siding. A pink bed sheet or curtain hung from a window.
Linda Henderson, 54, said of her grandchildren: "I get tickled every time I think about the kids; in their own special way they were all unique."
"Akyerria," she continued, "loved to sing and dance. Bryceston was the quiet one. He had a little speech problem, but he was really coming around lately. Cylor, he made you laugh. He did all kinds of little crazy things. He had this saying he said all the time. 'It's over with.' He was the smart one. Ethan was the baby; he was our little man."
Henderson said the two youngest children were still alive when they were pulled from a second-story window, but died later.
"When we got to the hospital, they took us to what they call the quiet room. I just dropped to the floor because I knew what that meant," she said.
A red bouquet, put there by a firefighter, was placed at a corner of the burned-out building.
As she spoke to an Associated Press reporter, other families who lived in the apartment building carried out clothes and other personal belongings. The building was a wreck and smelled strongly of smoke Saturday evening.
The apartment complex, occupied by eight families, was damaged heavily by the fire, Travis said.
Linda Henderson said her daughter worked as a hairdresser and was in her last year of study to become a medical assistant.
A 16-year-old witness, Ijuan Wilson, said he was hanging out with buddies at a nearby building at about midnight when someone screamed that there was a fire.
He described a chaotic scene in which a woman in an apartment near the Hendersons' started dropping children out of a second-story window and then jumped out herself to escape the flames. He said a friend and he kicked in the door of the Hendersons' apartment but smoke and flames poured out, forcing them back.
"I didn't hear or see no one," he said. "All I saw was smoke and fire."
Wilson said that another neighbor saw the youngest children, the two who died in the hospital, banging on a second-story window trying to get help. A neighbor climbed onto an electrical meter box and broke out the window to try to save the boys, but he was overcome by smoke and fell to the ground.
"It affected me to see all this," Wilson said. "Knowing all those babies died in one fire and their mother too."
On Saturday evening, Marilyn Minter, a first-grade teacher who had taught Akyerria, was on the scene to help. She said Akyerria had just finished her first day of second grade at Watkins Elementary School on Friday.
She said Akyerria was a caring child with big dimples and a great smile.
"She was a caring student. Quiet and very concerned about others," Minter said. "She was just one of those students that would light up everyday. She was a shining star. She was so excited about starting second grade."
Meanwhile Carla Johnson, another elementary school teacher at Watkins, was trying to help families at two nearby buildings that lost water because of the fire. She pleaded for people to bring bottled water and other goods.
Associated Press writer Cain Burdeau reported from New Orleans.