“I couldn’t get him out,” said a neighbor who was met by a wall of smoke but was able to lead the boy’s four siblings to safety.
Angie Flemings heard a smoke alarm about 9:45 p.m. Wednesday and figured her neighbors had burned something in the kitchen. Then, her doorbell rang.
Before she could answer it, she heard the 13-year-old boy who lives next door yelling: “My little brother’s in there! My little brother’s in there!”
Within seconds, Flemings was climbing the stairs of her neighbor’s home to reach the second-floor bedroom where the 6-year-old boy was.
“But there was too much smoke, I couldn’t get him out,” Flemings said Thursday, tears welling in her eyes.
Flemings ushered the 13-year-old and three other siblings — ages 1, 4, 5 — away from danger and into her Altgeld Gardens row house.
Several police officers soon arrived, but smoke also halted their efforts to reach the boy, Flemings said.
“And then firefighters came and went in and they must have heard him talking because I heard them saying ‘Keep talking!’” she said.
Flemings said she worried the boy might have trouble communicating with firefighters because he was autistic.
“And then, next thing you know, they just bring his little burnt body out,” said Flemings, who watched as firefighters tried in vain to revive the boy.
The boy, identified as Ron Johnson, was rushed from the home in the 13000 block of South Evans Avenue to Roseland Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police and the Cook County medical examiner’s office said.
The child had burns on the majority of his body, fire department spokesman Larry Langford said.
Another neighbor, Rodger Harris, 67, said he shared the anguish of first responders.
“The firefighters who brought the boy out were crying,” Harris said. “I told them personally that I saw everything and I appreciated their efforts. The one guy, he was torn up pretty bad, the one who had him in his arms.”
Langford said the fire, which was quickly doused, was mostly contained to the upstairs room where the boy was found on a top bunk bed. How the fire started was not immediately clear, he said.
The boy’s four siblings were not injured, according to police, who said the children were left home alone.
Flemings, 47, said she’d been concerned for months for the safety of the children because their mother would often leave them home alone.
“I kept saying all summer that something is going to happen. I told her that,” she said.
Attempts to reach the mother were unsuccessful.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is investigating the child’s death. The agency had prior contact with the boy’s family, agency spokesman Bill McCaffrey said.
The boy’s siblings are staying with relatives, McCaffrey said.
The Chicago Housing Authority issued a statement saying it “extends its thoughts and prayers to those affected by this unfortunate incident. We thank the Chicago Fire Department and Chicago Police Department for their prompt response. The fire is under investigation.”
The fire department distributed smoke detectors and fire safety materials to neighbors Thursday morning, which is standard procedure after a fatal fire, Langford said.
Contributing: Emmanuel Camarillo, Jermaine Nolen