Boy on Father’s Day visit, 5 others, die in fire

By SAMANTHA HENRY

AP, June 16, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A teenager on a Father’s Day visit to Newark to
honor his deceased dad died, along with his mother and four others, when
a fast-moving fire ripped through a three-story home early Sunday,
authorities and the boy’s grandmother said.

The blaze broke out
at the single-family residence about 4 a.m. and soon spread to another
home, the Essex County Prosecutor’s office said. Both structures were
destroyed.

Iris Sydney, of neighboring Irvington, stood outside
the burned-out residence later Sunday, clutching a framed studio
portrait of her grandson and his mother. They were supposed to meet her
for a Father’s Day service at the Solid Rock church, where his father
attended services before he died two years ago in a bicycle accident in
Newark, she told The Associated Press. But they never showed up.

When
Sydney returned home from church, a sheriff’s deputy was standing at
her door and gave her the sad news: 15-year-old Stephan Sydney and his
mother, Noreen “Michelle” Johnson, were killed in the fire, along with
four others.

Sydney, 77, said the boy and his mother were
visiting from Crawford, Georgia, and were staying with Johnson’s
relatives at the house, now black and charred, when the fire broke out.
The boy had gotten a haircut for church.

“I can’t believe this,”
she said. “But I’m telling you: I buried my husband … I bury my son,
and now this is my grandchild. I feel it. I feel it in my heart … This
is a sad day for the Sydney family. It is.”

Authorities have not
determined the cause of the fire but say it doesn’t appear to be
suspicious, according to Thomas Fennelly, chief assistant prosecutor.
Everyone in the second home managed to escape safely, he said.

All
that remained of the home Sunday afternoon was the blackened frame,
with piles of twisted furniture and belongings spilling out of the empty
sills that once held windows. The white fence around the front of the
property was still intact.

Caption: Firefighters pick through the rubble of a burned out home as they look for clues to a fire that authorities say killed six people in Newark, N.J., Sunday, June 15, 2014. The Essex County prosecutor’s office says the fast-moving fire that roared through a single-family home in New Jersey’s largest city, broke out at around 4 a.m. Sunday. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Carol Valentine sorted through
smoke-damaged photographs and photo albums with charred pages on the
sidewalk in front of her fiance’s home, which is next door to the
residence where the fire started. Her fiance had been out of town and
returned early Sunday to his home, which was already ablaze.

“He’d
been delayed on planes for two days. He had gone to a graduation,” she
said. “Had he not been delayed, he would have been sleeping, and he
probably wouldn’t be alive.”

She said she didn’t know much about the neighbors.

Sydney
said both sides of Stephan’s family have ties to the Caribbean. She is a
native of Georgetown, Guyana, and Stephan had been scheduled to go with
his maternal grandmother on Wednesday to her native Trinidad and Tobago
for a month-long visit with family there.

Cheryl Sydney, the
teenager’s aunt, was still wearing her white church dress and pearls as
she stood across the street from the fire-ravaged house. She described
how she admired both her nephew and his mother and listed their good
qualities.

“Main thing is that she was a good person, a young,
vibrant person,” Cheryl Sydney said. “This is my nephew — young,
15-years-old, artistic, poetry, dancer — did not deserve this.”

Interim
Mayor Luis A. Quintana, who went to the fire scene as firefighters
worked to control the blaze, said in a statement Sunday: “Our heartfelt
condolences go out to the family and friends of our six residents whose
lives were taken by this horrific fire.

“As we mourn the loss of
these six residents, I ask Newarkers to cherish being with their
families today and keep all those affected by this fire in their
prayers,” he said.

A small storefront church called Tree of Life
Ministries, on the other side of the home where the six died, appeared
undamaged. Neighbors gathered outside the home — many in their Sunday
church clothes — shaking their heads at the loss of so many lives.

The Rev. Thomas Ellis lives in the neighborhood and stopped by to offer his support.

“For the city of Newark, this is a sad and tragic day,” he said. “The community is hurting.”

He and about 15 others held a prayer vigil Sunday evening.

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