Boy Who Died in Bronx Fire Wanted to Be the Next Michael Jordan

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska and Trevor Kapp  on January 1, 2013 5:43pm

BRONX — Friends and neighbors mourned the victims of a deadly New Year’s Eve fire that gutted a house in the Bronx on Monday, killing three family members, including a 12-year-old boy who friends said wanted to be "the next Michael Jordan."

Jahvonte Smith, 12, died inside the three-story home at 735 Beach Ave. he shared with his grandfather, John Debro, 73, who also died in the fire. Debro's sister-in-law Annetta Isaac, 71, who lived on the second floor, also perished in the blaze, which broke out at 5:42 a.m., fire officials said.

Smith's grandmother, June Debro, was one of three survivors who survived the flames, the New York Daily News reported. A 15-year-old girl and 73-year-old woman were also taken to Jacobi Medical Center in stable condition, police said.

John Debro, a retired limousine driver, bought the house for his large family in 1981, according to city Department of Finance documents. It was divided into two households and housed 10 relatives at the time of the fire, according to a Red Cross spokesman.

Neighbors and friends of the family streamed past the house Tuesday, which remained a burned-out shell with charred mattresses and furniture strewn on the sidewalk and scorched awnings drooping over blown-out windows.

Tyneall Johnson, 11, said he had known Jahvonte for three years, since the two had been in second grade.

“He was cool with everybody. He didn't start problems,” Tyneall said. He said Jahvonte was in advanced classes and was especially good in social studies.

Jahvonte was also known for standing up for his friends.

“He tried to get people to stop bullying me. Some guys were picking on me once, and he came in and said, 'That's not cool how you guys are bullying him,’” Tyneall said.

The bullying stopped after that, Tyneall said.

Jahvonte’s dream was to become a basketball player, his friends said.

“He wanted to be the next Michael Jordan,” Tyneall said. “He had a quick cross over, and a great fade-away jump shot. “

Javier Pantojas, 12, another neighborhood friend, said Jahvonte was “a cool boy.”

"He'd come on the court and say 'Pass me the ball. I wanna play with you,’" and he'd shoot around with us. He had a good jump shot," Javier recalled.

Mark Santos, 11, a friend and classmate at P.S. 100, remembered Jahvonte as a good and popular student.

"He knew a lot of people in the school,” he said. “We used to always hang out with each other."

Spider Johnson, 47, who lives a couple houses away from the family, said he was devastated by the news.

"That's my little man,” he said. “ I loved him like he was my own son. He went to school with my son (at P.S. 100). He'd come by my house and play."

Johnson also said he was saddened by the loss of John Debro.

"He was one good guy,” Johnson said. “He was a church-going guy. He'd run to the store, do laundry. He loved his family. Family came first."

He added: "They were very respectful people."

The blaze began on the second and third floors of the three-story house, fire officials said.

Firefighters said Tuesday the blaze was not considered suspicious, but inspectors have yet to determine its cause, a spokesman said.

Two adjoining homes were also destroyed. About 40 residents were displaced from the three buildings and many were being housed in local hotels, Red Cross spokesman Michael de Vulpillieres said.

The 10 people who lived in the Debro home were all related, de Vulpillieres said. The surviving family members had another place to stay and did not require Red Cross assistance, he said.

Two firefighters were taken to the hospital with minor injuries, an FDNY spokesman said.

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