THE BRONX — Three little boys were dead and ten others were injured after a fire engulfed a second floor apartment of a building in High Bridge, fire officials and witnesses said.
Three brothers were killed in the blaze, which touched off around 7:56 p.m. after a candle in the kitchen ignited the fire, according to the FDNY. Electricity had been shut off less than a day earlier due to unpaid bills, Con Edison said.
Elijah Artis, 5, and his brothers Jeremiah Artis, 2, and Michael Turner, 4 months old and a twin, were all killed in the South Bronx fire.
The children's father, who stopped by the 64 W.165th Street briefly, uttered, "I'm just taking it as best as I could. One day at a time," to members of the press outside his burned out home, before friends blocked him off from questions Saturday.
Upstairs resident Valerie Frazier, who lives on the fifth floor, was among many neighbors at 64 W.165th Street who watched helplessly from the street as the children, who lived in the apartment with two other siblings, were burned alive.
"When I got downstairs [the mother] grabbed me and said, 'Can you go get my kids for me?'" But they told me I couldn't go back up there. She just started screaming and crying but there was nothing we could do," said Frazier.
The boys' mother, Tashika Turner, 25, who had been in the apartment she shared with five of her six children and her boyfriend, ran out of the apartment with her oldest daughter Maya, 4, when the fire began, then tried to go back in to rescue the others — the two boys and 4-month-old twins — but she was unable to get back in, Frazier said.
Two men rushed into the apartment to try and rescue them, and they saved the infant girl, who neighbors said was named Michelle, by dropping her from the fire escape to a waiting neighbor, Charlotte Amakye, on the ground. They were unable to get back in to rescue the others, said Amakye.
"Two guys rushed in and one of them said, 'Here,' and I took her," said Amakye. "I took her and she looked passed out like she's passing away, and I took her into the store right here, and I took a wet cloth and wiped the black off her face, and rubbed [her] chest. [She] sort of threw up a bit, then was alive again." WrokerShe said she saw an EMT giving CPR to another child at the scene.
The children's father, Artis, approached the building as the blaze was in its full fury, Frazier said. "He came just after we got out and he was like, 'Is everybody okay?' And everybody was screaming 'It's your kids!' And he started running to get them, but it was too late."
"I'm devastated," she added. "They were such sweet and beautiful and outgoing kids."
A Con Edison spokesman said the apartment's electric meter had been removed and power shut off on Thursday.
The electric bills had totaled $8,700 and had about $500 of late fees tacked on, a landlord told DNAinfo.com. He said the one-bedroom unit was still in Turner's grandmother's name, Charlotte Brownlee.
"If [Turner] had approached me, I would have given them a [extension] cord," said a landlord, Anthony Guddemi, who added that he had no clue the family had recently welcomed newborn twins. "It's a complicated situation."
Con Edison also said they'd tried extensively to reach the renters. "We try to avoid turning service off for customers, we try to put customers on payment plans and avoid turnoff, but this account unfortunately had a significant amount of arrears," said a spokesman. He said the utility also referred customers to social services programs that offer assistance with bills. "It's a terrible terrible tragedy that three children died."
FDNY Deputy Chief Paul Manix used one word to describe the scene Friday night: "Bedlam. It was bedlam," he said, outside the building on Saturday.
"Very chaotic. We try our best, but that night we had three losses. We are here to help, and we couldn't help." As soon as they got water on the fire, it went out quickly, he said, but it was already too late.
Frazier, who had seen the family's gutted apartment after the blaze, called the sight "gruesome. It just looks like a horror movie."
She said she and other neighbors would've helped with the electric bill if they had been aware. "I just wish I had known. We would have all chipped together to pay for them. I guess the kids all got too much for her."
A neighbor who lived above the family, on the third floor, said she heard the screaming from the street, and tried to run in and save the children herself.
"She saw me and said, 'Help me my kids are dying!' And I ran in and I kicked the door down. I kicked the door off. But the fire was crazy. I couldn't get them."
Woods said the children were "like part of my family" and she is planning to stay elsewhere for a while after the terrifying event.
"I still hear them babies crying. I still see them dead. I can't just walk past that door. I can't do it," she said.
"They were beautiful. They would run and just hug me. Very good looking children. They are still beautiful."
Another neighbor from the block, Eddie Tee, said Turner shoved the older girl Maya into his arms when she saw him, so she could try to go back for the others.
"Her hair was burnt, she was coughing, her left arm was burned and she had a cut on her right leg. She wasn't breathing right. She was complaining she was hot, so we took her shirt off and she had burns all on her body," said Tee.
Red Cross workers were on the scene to help relocate people and offer a hot meal at a nearby school for displaced tenants, officials said.
Ten others were injured, including one child who was in critical condition at Lincoln Hospital on Saturday morning, fire officials said.
Three others were suffering serious injuries. An investigation was ongoing.