NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A fast-moving fire ripped through a single-family home early Sunday, killing six people, including a boy on a Father’s Day trip to Newark to honor his deceased dad, authorities and the boy’s grandmother said.
The blaze broke out at the three-story residence at around 4 a.m., the Essex County Prosecutor’s office said. The fire soon spread to another residence, and both homes were destroyed.
Standing outside the burned-out residence, Iris Sydney told The Associated Press a sheriff’s deputy informed her after she arrived home from church that her 15-year-old grandson, Stephan Sydney, and his mother were killed in the fire, along with four others.
Sydney said the boy and his mother, Noreen Johnson, were visiting from Georgia so he could attend services at his father’s church on Father’s Day. Desmond Sydney, the boy’s father, died in a bicycle accident two years ago.
Sydney said the boy and his mother were staying with Johnson’s relatives at the house, now black and charred, when the fire broke out. She said they didn’t show up for church, as planned, and she returned home to find the deputy.
“I can’t believe this,” she said. “But I’m telling you: I buried my husband … I bury my son, and now this is my grandchild. I feel it. I feel it in my heart … This is a sad day for the Sydney family. It is.”
Authorities have not identified the victims, saying only that they were likely related. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined but it doesn’t appear to be suspicious, said Thomas Fennelly, chief assistant prosecutor. Everyone in the second home managed to escape safely, he said.
All that remained of the home Sunday afternoon was the blackened frame, with piles of twisted furniture and belongings spilling out of the empty sills that once held windows. The white fence around the front of the property was still intact.
Carol Valentine sorted through smoke-damaged photographs and photo albums with charred pages on the sidewalk in front of her fiance’s home, which is next door to the residence where the fire started. Her fiance had been out of town and returned early Sunday to his home, which was already ablaze.
“He’d been delayed on planes for two days. He had gone to a graduation,” she said. “Had he not been delayed, he would have been sleeping, and he probably wouldn’t be alive.”
She said she didn’t know much about the neighbors.
A small storefront church called Tree of Life Ministries, on the other side of the home where six died, appeared undamaged. Neighbors gathered outside the home — many in their Sunday church clothes — shaking their heads at the loss of so many lives.
The Rev. Thomas Ellis lives in the neighborhood and stopped by to offer his support.
“For the city of Newark, this is a sad and tragic day,” he said. “The community is hurting.”
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