Community members gathered Wednesday evening to mourn the death of brothers who perished during a blaze earlier this week in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood.
The fire broke out early Sunday in the basement of a two-story brick two-flat in the 4000 block of West Potomac Street.
Five-year-old Aiden Cruz was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital early Sunday morning while his brothers, 6-year-old Jayden Cruz and 11-year-old Angel Rodriguez, died at the hospital in the following days, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
The condition of a fourth brother, 4, was not immediately known. A GoFundMe page created to support the family said all four boys had died, and four crosses were laid out at the vigil on Wednesday night.
The fire started in the back bedroom of the basement apartment, which only had one exit, according to a spokesperson at the Chicago Fire Department.
The vigil was held at the Children’s Garden of Hope, near the scene of the blaze, where the three youngest boys often played.
“This is something that touched the whole community,” said Venus Jackson, program coordinator at Nobel Neighbors.
Day care teachers and staffers who cared for the children hugged one another and cried as they placed flowers around one white cross leaning against a tree. Behind the tree, three other white crosses leaned against a fence, where community members wrote on them in marker mostly in Spanish, “Descansa en Paz” or “Rest in Peace” among other notes with the boys’ names, Axel, Aiden, Jayden and Angel.
Two women lit tall, narrow religious candles while flowers — including a bouquet of red roses and single white roses — and stuffed animals including a Spider Man, a bear and a puppy were placed on a tree and the ground surrounding a cross.
Staffers, most wearing blue shirts, were from Smart From the Start day care and preschool where the two youngest boys attended, they said.
They frequently teared up during the vigil, holding one another close.
Larry Walker, 36, lives nearby and had just gotten home from work late Saturday when he heard screaming, he said. Walker hustled outside, along with his sister and mom, to see what was happening.
He ran into the boys’ mom, who told him, “The house is on fire. My kids are in there,” Walker said.
Walker asked how he could get in to save them and she said: “You can’t get in, you can’t get in,’” Walker said.
“I busted the window, I got in, I burned my arm, and I grabbed one of the kids. I grabbed the 4-year-old.”
Walker pointed to a burn mark on his forearm. He said the smoke in the basement apartment was intense.
“I didn’t know what to do, I just did it,” a somber Walker explained, adding that he wishes he could have done more to save the children.
According to Maura Madden, who runs the Children’s Garden of Hope, the brothers were survived by an older sister and their mother, who was also hospitalized after the fire.
“They were digging for spiders and making mud pies all day (Saturday),” said Madden of the last time she saw the boys. “They were happy, beautiful little kids, she said.”
City Department of Buildings spokesperson Michael Puccinelli said that both Chicago building code and the international building code both allow for one exit depending on the size of the apartment.
In a written statement released Tuesday, the city’s department of buildings said: “Our thoughts are with their family and loved ones.”
The department additionally stated the property had no recent service calls or violations, and that the basement apartment was included on the Cook County property records.
Public records show a failed plumbing complaint inspection on May 10, 2011. Authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire, but confirmed that smoke detectors were heard that night.
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