SOUTH CHICAGO — Relatives are raising money for a family who lost three young sisters in a deadly apartment fire in South Chicago.
Kasey Daniels, who said she was the aunt of the three girls, hopes to raise at least $30,000 through a GoFundMe campaign. Her sister was the girls' mother, she wrote, and she hopes the money can give the girls a proper burial and help provide for their parents, who lost "everything" in the fire.
"Words cannot describe the feeling of being a mom the night you leave for work, and getting a call to come to the hospital only to hear that all of your children are no longer here on earth," Daniels wrote on the GoFundMe page.
An autopsy showed 3-month-old Melanie Watson died from multiple injuries from a fall during an attempted escape from the fire and carbon monoxide toxicity due to the fire, according to Cook County Medical Examiner's Office records. Watson's death was ruled a homicide.
Melanie had been born premature at 6 months and was "the strongest baby to have ever known," Daniels wrote on GoFundMe.
"She shocked us all when she pulled through and the family brought home a happy baby," Daniels wrote. "She is now home with the Lord."
The other girls were identified as Shaniyah Staples, 7, and Madison Watson, 4, by a relative.
Madison had celebrated her birthday just two weeks ago and was "one of the most brightest and comforting children," Daniels wrote. Shaniyah was smart, sassy and liked to joke, Daniels wrote.
"Brighter than her years is what she was," Daniels wrote.
The father of two of the girls was also wounded when he tried to jump from the third floor during the fire while holding Melanie, Daniels said. He was "critically injured," he said.
A fourth person, identified as Kirk Johnson, 56, died in the blaze, according to Cook County Medical Examiner's Office records. An autopsy showed Johnson died of thermal injuries and carbon monoxide toxicity due to the fire in a homicide.
Officials quickly announced the fire in the large apartment building in the 8100 block of South Essex Avenue was suspicious and being investigated as a possible arson.
One resident told reporters a neighborhood man was harassing her for $10, and when he was rebuffed, he lit boxes outside the building on fire.
When firefighters arrived after 1 a.m. Tuesday, the fire had already consumed the interior and exterior stairwells, blocking firefighters from entering, officials said.
"I love you Shaniyah, I love you Madison, I love you Melanie! I love you and I'm sorry this happened to you!" said relative Chantel Staples, weeping, at the scene of the fire on Tuesday morning. "Whoever did this, you will reap what you sow."
"We lost our three little princesses," Staples said. "They were so full of life. Shaniyah was just about to start second grade. We were just playing in the park with them last weekend. They were so happy."
Witnesses said the fire scene was chaotic.
"I woke up at like 1 when a lady started screaming outside 'Get out of the building, there's a fire!' I didn't see anything at first, but then I looked out the window and saw the whole roof was igniting across the way," said Valerie West, who lives on the second floor of the U-shaped apartment complex, across the courtyard from where the fire was apparently set. "People were trying to get out, hollering and jumping out of windows."
West's husband, Byron West, said he helped the 45-year-old man to safety after he jumped out of a second-floor window, breaking multiple bones.
"It was just pandemonium," Byron West said. "I couldn't understand why people were jumping out the windows, instead of just going out the back. The someone said 'They set the back porch on fire, too!'"
A fire in the 8100 block of South Essex killed four people, including three kids. [Chicago Fire Department]
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