A day before a deadly fire in their home, four young brothers spent their last Saturday making mud pies and digging for spiders in a local community garden.
The blaze Sunday left the boys — 11-year-old Angel Rodriguez, 6-year-old Jayden Cruz, 5-year-old Aiden Cruz and 4-year-old Axel Cruz — stuck in their West Humboldt Park basement apartment with only one exit.
Following the fire, the boys were each pronounced dead, the Cook County medical examiner’s office said Wednesday. Two adults, one of which was the boys’ mother, were transported to area hospitals and treated for smoke inhalation and burns.
Neighbors and friends gathered — eyes brimming with tears — at the Children’s Garden of Hope down the street from the boys’ apartment Wednesday to mourn and remember them.
“It makes you love your kids a little more,” said Valerie Fernandez, a neighbor who attended the vigil and knew the boys through a local day care center. “Give them a kiss, and be happy that you’re all here together.”
Larry Walker lives two doors down from the apartment that burned Sunday. As the unit went up in flames, Walker opened a window and carried one of the boys out of the fire.
“[I was thinking] just save the kids, just save the kids,” Walker told the Sun-Times.
Walker said he’s had trouble sleeping since the fire.
“I heard the rest of the kids screaming, but I couldn’t get to them,” he said. “It was heartbreaking, I’ve never been through something like this.”
As of Tuesday, what set the fire hadn’t been determined, though investigators said it had been caused by an open flame in one of the back rooms. It’s unclear if the fire was accidental or not.
The Sun-Times asked the Chicago Fire Department if any new information on the fire could be released Wednesday, and the department did not immediately respond.
A GoFundMe page has been started to financially support the boys’ mother and sister as they recover.
At the vigil, people huddled together and shared tight hugs as speakers prayed and offered condolences. White roses and blue star-shaped balloons dotted the scene of the vigil.
A makeshift memorial fashioned out of stuffed animals, mylar balloons and tall, skinny candles adorned the rock in front of the Children’s Garden of Hope where the brothers spent much of their time, according to Maura Madden, who runs the garden.
Madden said the brothers were tight-knit, especially the younger three.
“They were three little peas in a pod,” she said. “All so petite, so cute, but so well-mannered.”
The garden serves as a community gathering spot, especially for neighborhood children. The boys specifically liked the wooden stage in the center of the garden and ran through streams of water whenever Madden or other volunteers sprayed the growing plants.
“These are my angels,” Madden said.
Alicia Escalante, 11, described herself as Angel Rodriguez’s girlfriend and classmate. Her eyes welled with tears as speakers echoed condolences for the family and prayed at the garden.
“She was so sad,” Escalante’s mom, Bianca Mena said. “I don’t know how to feel. We want to help with anything we can.”