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Carbon Monoxide Deaths Shock Friends, Family of 2 Women

By  Benjamin Woodard and Quinn Ford | January 28, 2013 8:38am | Updated on January 28, 2013 7:01pm

 Anjum Qureshi, who lives next door to the apartment complex where two women died from CO poisoning, said her daughter knew the 18-year-old victim well.
Anjum Qureshi, who lives next door to the apartment complex where two women died from CO poisoning, said her daughter knew the 18-year-old victim well.
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DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard

WEST ROGERS PARK — Friends and family of a woman and her granddaughter found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning said they are "in a state of shock" over the tragedy.

The 75-year-old woman and her 18-year-old granddaughter died Sunday after apparently being overcome by the gas in their apartment in the 2500 block of West North Shore Avenue in West Rogers Park.

A third family member remains hospitalized.

"The family is in a state of shock," said Choudhary Noeman, who identified himself as an uncle and nephew of the victims, while standing outside the two-story apartment complex Monday morning.

Fire officials said the deaths were likely due to a slow and prolonged leak from the building's furnace. A Monday autopsy performed by the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office determined that the two women died from carbon monoxide due to faulty heating equipment.

 The five-unit apartment complex in the 2500 block of West North Shore Avenue in West Rogers Park.
The five-unit apartment complex in the 2500 block of West North Shore Avenue in West Rogers Park.
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DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard

Fire crews were called to the five-unit building at 10:40 a.m. Sunday morning, officials said.

Crews found two women, one on the first floor and another on the second, in the building unresponsive. They were taken to Swedish Covenant Hospital, where both later were pronounced dead.

Rasheeda Akhter, 75, who authorities said lived in the building, was pronounced dead at 8:15 p.m., according to the medical examiner's office.

Zanib Ahmad, 18, who neighbors said was Akhter's granddaughter, was pronounced dead less than an hour later.

Akhter was under cardiac arrest at the scene and Ahmed was suffering a seizure when first responders arrived, officials said.

Their deaths were determined to be accidental, an autopsy showed.

Police and paramedics were called to the scene again hours later when a third woman fell ill.

Noeman told several reporters outside the apartment that the third woman was his 74-year-old mother, and she is conscious and talking at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston. Only "God knows" what happened, he said.

Five children, ages 5 through 12, also were in the apartment and were taken to the hospital, the family said.

They are in good health, Noeman said, but planned to stay away from the building Monday.

A funeral is planned for Tuesday, he said.

At a Monday press conference in Rogers Park, Mark Nielsen, assistant deputy Chicago fire commissioner, said the tragic event was likely caused by the faulty ventilation system of an "old" furnace, poisoning the family members slowly over a long period of time.

He said the carbon monoxide detector in the basement appeared to be working, but an open window nearby might have wafted fresh air past the detector, dissipating the gas enough to go undetected.

The gas will "find any nook and cranny or pipe and go up," he said. The victims slept in bedrooms directly above the furnace.

Larry Langford, a spokesman for the department, said a working detector on the upper floors would have saved the victim's lives.

Langford said when the fire department first arrived Sunday to attend to the two women who later died, officials did not realize there was a problem with the furnace because the gas levels were insignificant.

"When we got there, we may have opened a window, may have opened doors," he said, which likely dissipated the gas "to the point it was so low it wasn't significant enough, but it already had done the medical damage."

The family called back later, when Noeman's mother grew ill, and that's when officials found that CO levels had reached a level that required the gas company, Peoples Gas, to inspect the furnace, and the leak was found.

Anjum Qureshi, who said she had lived next door to the family for three years, wept when asked about how she knew the dead women.

The 18-year-old was "young, pretty — and humble," said Qureshi about her daughter's friend.

She said the community was tight-knit and that she'd be attending the funeral.

Qureshi's daughter, Erum, who lives with her mother, said Monday night she was good friends with Zanib Ahmad.

The 25-year-old nurse said she'd borrow Ahmad's clothes "all the time" and had helped her with math homework the night before.

"I didn't believe it," she said of when she heard Ahmad had died. "I didn't expect an 18-year-old to pass away."

She said Ahmad had done well on the ACT exam and wanted to be a surgeon. She was on the waiting list to get into Northwestern and had been accepted to Loyola University.

"It's been a bigger loss because she's the type of person who would put a smile on your face," she said. "If anyone deserves to be in a better place, it's her."

Ahmad was part of the final senior class at St. Scholastica Academy, a Benedictine school that's closing after this school year.

The school posted a message on its website memorializing Ahmad.

"[St. Scholastica] mourns the loss of Zanib Ahmad, our classmate and friend," it read. "Services for Zanib and her grandmother will be held Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the Muslim Community Center on Elston Avenue. May they rest in peace."