In fire’s wake: Mourning families, survivor tales
By Erika Wurst firstname.lastname@example.org May 16, 2011 11:40AM
Iglesia Bautista Emanuel Baptist Church is collecting donations of clothing and other items for the families of the fire victims, as well as monetary donations. The church also is accepting donations for the funerals of the victims. Donations can be dropped off at the church at 742 Claim St. in Aurora. Monetary donations also can be mailed to Emanuel Baptist Church, 742 Claim St., Aurora, IL 60505. In the memo section of the check, the donor should indicate the money is for the fire victims’ funerals.
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Updated: September 29, 2011 12:36AM
AURORA — Jesus Martinez was asleep in his apartment on the second floor at 760 Claim St. early Sunday morning when he awoke to the commotion outside.
“I heard the fire department sirens,” he said. “Then I told my wife the building was on fire.”
The 29-year-old Martinez, who lived in the apartment with his wife and two young children, knew he had to act fast.
“The smoke was suffocating. I couldn’t see a foot in front of me. ... There was no way we could get out through the hallway,” he said.
Without hesitation, Martinez threw the family’s air conditioning window unit through the glass and used a blanket to lower his 7-year-old son to safety. Police officers on the ground helped Martinez lower the family’s 11-month-old child to the ground as well.
Martinez and his wife followed suit, and were able to escape the fire uninjured.
Others, he said, weren’t as lucky.
“One guy jumped from the third story and was covered in scratches. He was screaming that his wife was still inside with his baby,” Martinez said. “People were everywhere looking for relatives. We were told to go to the parking lot next door for accountability.”
Martinez said that he did not hear smoke detector alarms going off Sunday morning.
“The only reason I woke up was from the commotion and the sirens,” he said.
Parents and children die
Six people — three adults and three children — were killed in the blaze which broke out at about 4 a.m. Sunday in the three-story apartment building.
On Monday, the East Aurora School District said that two Brady Elementary school students and their parents were killed in the fire.
Kindergartner Francisco Marcos Jr.; his older brother, fourth-grader Jose Marcos; and their parents, Micaela Perez and Francisco Marcos Sr., died in the fire, according to East Aurora spokesman Clayton Muhammad.
Memorial crosses placed at the scene bore the names of two other victims, 8-month-old Alex Gonzaga and his mother, Christina Domingez. Friends of Domingez confirmed that the mother and her child had been killed.
According to Leticia Varela, a friend of Domingez, the woman’s husband, Alejandro, and her 2-year-old daughter, Jaime, got out of the burning apartment alive. Varela said that Jaime suffered severe burns and is being treated at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, where her father is by her side. On Monday, Aurora Deputy Fire Chief John Lehman said Jaime is in serious condition with a possible skull fracture and other issues. The girl’s father was treated at Provena for his own injuries, Lehman said.
“His heart is breaking,” Varela said of Domingez’s husband. “He can’t talk. He only cries.”
Sole survivor of family
Members of the Marcos family said a third sibling survived the fire. They identified the 14-year-old as Teodoro Marcos, a student at Waldo Middle School.
“He knows what happened to his family,” said the boy’s cousin, Mali Velazquez, 18. “He ran out by himself.”
Velazquez, along with her mother and brother, were at Iglesia Bautista Emanuel Baptist Church Monday morning, where they collected clothing and food items for Teodoro. Teodoro Marcos will stay with the Velazquez family in Aurora until it is determined who will be awarded custody of the only surviving member of the Marcos family, his cousin said.
“He is OK physically,” Velazquez said, adding that the teen has been released from the hospital.
Francisco Marcos was a cook at Select Restaurant in Montgomery, according to Karina Cano, whose father owns the restaurant. He worked there for seven years.
“He was a very hard worker. He was always there,” Cano said.
The family immigrated to Aurora from Puebla, Mexico.
The Kane County coroner’s office had not released official identifications on the victims late Monday. Coroner Chuck West said autopsies were scheduled for Monday morning.
Back on the scene
Another resident of the apartment building, Beatric Delgado, a seventh grader at Cowherd Middle School, said she was awakened by the screams of her mother and friend just after 4 a.m. Sunday.
Delgado, along with six others in her unit, jumped out of the third-floor window to safety.
On Monday, she returned to the scene on crutches to survey the site. She said she suffered a sprained ankle during her fall, while her friend broke both legs.
Deputy Fire Chief John Lehman said there were activated smoke detectors in the building’s common areas, but he was unsure if they work working in individual units when the fire started.
About 25 to 30 people lived in the Claim Street building, Lehman said. Ten of the residents were rescued from the burning building by firefighters, while the rest got out by escaping through windows and a back staircase.
Lehman said the fire started on the first floor of the building, and that eight to 10 people occupied the apartment where the fire began. Lehman said the residents attempted to control the fire with a garden hose, and then alerted people in other units to evacuate. They are cooperating with police.
City officials said Monday they did not expect to determine a cause of the fire until Tuesday at the earliest. However, the cause does not appear to be suspicious, city officials said.
The Red Cross will help place victims at local hotels until they can find a permanent place to stay. Many of the displaced residents are staying with family members in the Aurora area.
The nearby Iglesia Bautista Emanuel Baptist Church is collecting donations for the funerals of the victims. Donations can be dropped off at the church, where donors will receive a receipt. Monetary donations can also be mailed to Emanuel Baptist Church, 742 Claim St., Aurora, IL 60505. In the memo section of the check, the donor should indicate the money is for the fire victims’ funerals.
Spectators flock to scene
On Monday morning, cars slowed to a snail’s pace on Claim Street as passers-by peered through windows at the burned building and the six crosses that were placed outside.
Flowers, candles, balloons and children’s toys leaned up against the white, wooden cross memorials hand-made by Aurora resident Greg Zanis.
Zanis has erected more than 11,000 such crosses across the country at the sites of major tragedies. This one, however, hit close to home for the contract carpenter.
“This is my city,” he said. “I live here, and I’ve never put up so many crosses in Aurora for any reason.”
Family members and friends of the victims gathered around the crosses throughout the day Monday. Strangers, too, showed up to pay their respect.
Former firefighter Jim Atwell drove an hour and 15 minutes from Round Lake to check out the scene after reading about the tragedy in the newspaper.
“I was a fireman for 32 years, and I’ve never seen this many (deaths),” he said. “It’s always sad when people die, but especially sad when it is young kids.”
Staff writers Matt Hanley and Stephanie Lulay contributed to this story.