Neighbors tremble at memory of 2 screaming girls who died in Chester fire

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Neighbors embrace yesterday near the site of a fatal house fire in Chester that claimed the lives of two girls, 6 and 9. Fire officials are still investigating the cause of the early-morning blaze.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Neighbors embrace yesterday near the site of a fatal house fire in Chester that claimed the lives of two girls, 6 and 9. Fire officials are still investigating the cause of the early-morning blaze.
Posted: July 26, 2013


Neighbors can still hear the screams that tore through windows, overpowered the roar of air conditioners and embedded themselves, forever, in the minds of Chester residents yesterday.

The screams came from little girls who were leaning out windows, about to die in a ruthless house fire, and from their parents, who watched below in helpless horror.

"All I could hear was just screaming and screaming and screaming," said neighbor Denise Grimes. "It was terrible - all the screaming and the fire that was coming out of the window. I just couldn't take it. I lost it."

Early yesterday on 15th near Washington Avenue - at house number 911 - two children, cousins Amajhay Ferguson, 9, and Bella McKnight, 6, were killed in the fire.

A 4-year-old boy, Moses McKnight, suffered critical injuries - officials said he may have burns to as much as 70 percent of his tiny body. He was taken to Crozer-Chester Medical Center's burn unit.

Three other children and two adults who were in the house when the blaze broke out escaped with nonlife-threatening injuries. Four firefighters also were treated for minor injuries.

Officials said the adult residents of the home, Timothy Ferguson and Tyisha McKnight, had their three children in the house along with the kids' three cousins. The other children were staying at the house because their father had been in a car accident the previous day, relatives told authorities.

Neighbor Ranee Reason, 35, who has five kids of her own and lives down the street from the house, was awakened by the sound of children screaming.

"At first, I thought it was my kids," she said. "It was so loud, I thought it was coming from inside my own house."

A 27-year-old resident of the block, who asked to be identified only as Kwae, said she saw Tyisha McKnight jump out of a window. A 31-year-old neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said she saw children leaning out the second-story windows, screaming for help.

"I felt so sick. Hearing those screams is something I won't ever forget," the 31-year-old resident said. "I know it's terrible, but I had to go back in the house. I thought I was going to pass out."

Reason said she saw Timothy Ferguson try to go back into his burning house to save the other children.

"But the way them flames was coming," Reason said, "it was impossible to get in there."

Grimes, 57, who usually rises early, was talking with her son shortly before 6:30 a.m. when she heard the screaming.

"It's early in the morning; you don't hear that around here, because this is a nice neighborhood," she said. "So I peeked out the window and when I looked out, I saw so much smoke."

Chester Fire Commissioner James L. Johnson said the initial call to fire dispatch came in at 6:27 a.m., with reports of several children at the property.

Fire crews arrived within four minutes and saw fire in the front and rear of the first floor, he said.

Firefighters entered the rowhouse to try to save the three children trapped inside.

Kwae said she saw one of the firefighters bringing 4-year-old Moses out of the house in his arms.

"The guy that brought the little boy out, I wish I knew his name," she said. "He handed the boy over, took his equipment off and sat on the truck, crying."

Kwae said the mother of the kids who were visiting the home ran up to the house screaming, "That's my only daughter!"

Johnson said fire crews had the blaze out within 10 minutes. The cause was being investigated.

"We are leaving no stone unturned," Johnson said. "We want to make sure we give that family some rest as to what caused this."

Besides young Moses, both adults in the house and four firefighters were treated at Crozer-Chester. All but Moses were in stable condition or had been released as of yesterday afternoon.

Chester Fire Chaplain Robert Johnson said he prayed with the family yesterday.

"They are distraught - the family, their friends, the neighbors, they are all distraught," he said. "They were really good, quality family people and then - this."

On a block where, neighbors said, sometimes as many as 30 children play together in the street, 9-year-old Amajhay will be missed.

Her friend, Haneiyah Toler, 12, said that just last weekend she, Amajhay and other children were playing with a water hose outside.

She said Amajhay's favorite color was purple and that she always wore braids and flower barrettes in her hair. Amajhay also liked to ride bicycles and ripstiks, a type of skateboard, and she enjoyed listening to her favorite boy band, Mindless Behavior.

"She was a nice girl," Toler said. "It's sad because it's going to be real quiet on the street now."

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