KINGSTON –– Grief and anguish gripped Heathfield Avenue, off Studio One Boulevard in St Andrew, Wednesday after two siblings — ages ten and five — perished in an early morning fire that destroyed their seven-bedroom house.
The charred remains of Nhyeema Barrett, a grade five student at Allman Town Primary, and her younger brother Shaheem Green — a student of Mulvina White Basic School — were found in one of the burnt-out rooms of the house after firefighters managed to put out the blaze that started minutes after 4 a.m. A total of 13 people have been left homeless.
A pregnant family member and her 12-year-old-son were injured in the blaze and were taken to Kingston Public Hospital for treatment.
The pregnant woman’s husband, Rikado Samuels, and their other son had escaped unharmed along with the siblings’ 14-year-old sister, who first made the alarm about the fire.
The children were left in the care of Samuels and his wife, who had been visiting from St Elizabeth. Their mother, a security guard, was on night duty.
A distraught Samuels told the Jamaica Observer that heat prevented them from getting to the room in which Nhyheem and Shaheem slept.
He said that he and his wife were awaken by loud knocks from the oldest sibling. He said the escape was difficult as, having only arrived at the home on Tuesday, he was not familiar with it.
“All mi can seh a God mek di bigger one [sibling] find the door mouth and knock ‘cause if she neva come all a we woulda dead,” he said, as tears welled up in his eyes.
“Mi nuh have no idea how the fire start or nothing; all mi know is mi wake up under fire . . . Mi grieve when mi hear the little ones cry out and mi seh ‘Jesus Christ dem ago dead’, and mi run go back to see if mi coulda save dem, but mi couldn’t face the fire,” Samuel shared.
A neighbour, Orlando Cotterel, said he too tried to save the children, but the fire was too much.
“I rushed to the front but the heat was too hot, my skin felt like it was peeling off. I had to wet up my clothes and go back, but in no time dem dry back because the heat was so hot. We couldn’t go in,” he said.
District Officer Carlos Clarke told the Jamaica Observer that York Park Fire Station was alerted to the fire about 4:13 a.m. and responded with one unit along with two additional units from Half-Way-Tree and Trench Town fire stations.
His superior, Patrick Gooden, senior deputy superintendent for the Kingston and St Andrew Fire Brigade, said that the firemen were unable to save the children when they were informed that they were still inside the house.
“Three units were on location battling the blaze to a point when they were informed that the two children were suspected to be still inside the dwelling. They immediately launched a search-and-rescue operation. However, at the point in time when they reach to the children, they discovered that they would have passed away,” he said.
Wednesday, grief-stricken relatives, friends and neighbours wailed openly. Some wandered aimlessly, while others sat with their hands on their cheeks and head.
The situation became intense when the remains of the siblings were being removed by undertakers from the razed house.
Relatives and friends, determined to see their loved ones’ remains, wrestled with police officers, who tried to prevent them from accessing the house.
“Mi heartbeat dead! Oh God, mi heartbeat dead! Mi waan touch him, mi waan touch him,” cried an inconsolable Kesshema Gardner, Shaheem’s aunt.
“Do, do mi a beg yuh, mek mi see Princess, mi waan see Princess! Lord, God, mi baby, mi want mi baby,” Nyheema’s grandmother wailed.
The children’s parents were not at the scene when the Observer visited. Relatives, however, disclosed that the mother had been admitted to hospital, unable to deal with the news.
“Right now, the mother mouth close; not even Jesus she can talk to. If she did deh here she woulda a burn up with them, ‘cause she woulda go in there [for them],” said one neighbour.
Shaheem’s grandmother, Ruth Johnson-Gardner, who had travelled from Manchester after hearing the horrible news, refused to believe that her grandson was dead.
“I was at home when mi hear the news, but him nuh dead,” she said looking at her daughter Kesshema for the answer.
“Mama, him dead; yuh need fi accept it, cry if you want to but him dead,”Kesshema responded. “But me haffi ask God why, why? If mi did see him lately, oh God, but a from last holiday mi see him,” Johnson-Gardner cried.
Nearby, one of the children’s neighbour’s, who was seen clutching a bottle of rubbing alcohol, turned to God for answers.
“Lord, a you alone know. Papi and Taika, oh God,” the woman cried, unable to finish her sentence.
Some people at the scene alleged that a mosquito coil that was burning in the house may have started the fire. The theory was shared by firefighters.
In the meantime, councillor for the Admiral Town Division, Marcia Neita, said she had contacted a representative from the Parish Disaster Committee who will try to supply the family with blankets and bedding. She said that the pastor of a nearby church had also agreed to house the displaced family inside the church in the interim.
“It is such a tragedy, I can’t explain, Neita said. “The fire is one thing, but the loss of lives, especially two promising children, is very sad.”
A team from the Child Development Agency was also present to offer support and counselling to the children and affected family members.