A mother, her two young daughters and her niece were among the eight adults and four children killed in the Bronx apartment fire on Thursday, relatives said Friday.
Karen Francis, 37, her daughters Charmela, 7, and Kylie, 2, and her niece, Shawntay Young, 19, died after the blaze started at about 6:50 p.m. in the five-story Prospect Avenue building in Belmont, two of Karen Francis’ sisters said.
The fire, the deadliest the city has seen in decades, was caused by a 3-year-old boy playing with stove burners inside an apartment on the first floor, Mayor Bill de Blasio and FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. It quickly spread through the rest of the building, trapping many residents, they said.
Elaine Williams, one of Karen Francis' sisters and Young’s mother, said she was on her way home from work when her phone rang and someone told her about the blaze. "I was calling my daughter to see where she is. She was upstairs with her aunt so she got caught in the fire too," she said.
"I feel so empty. I feel so lost," Williams said Friday morning outside the building. "Standing right here, my soul is gone. Four in one family? C’mon now. I don’t wish that on my worst enemy."
Karen Francis' other sister, Shevon Stewart, 44, said she saw first responders taking their bodies out of the building.
"They started bringing them out one by one. It’s hard to take. It’s really really hard to take," she said.
Two other victims were Maria Batiz, 58, and her 7-month-old granddaughter, Amora, police and Batiz’s brother Fernando said.
Maria had called her daughter shortly after 7 p.m. and told her she and the baby were going to die, Fernando Batiz, 54, said. "She said she’s not going to make it."
His sister was "responsible and loving," Fernando said.
"She loved that baby a lot," he said, adding that she frequently baby-sat the child, whose name was Amora Vidal, according to multiple reports.
Emmanuel Mensah, 28, a private back in the Bronx after training for the Army, was missing after the fire on Friday. His family and the mayor's office confirmed his death Saturday, adding that he died trying to help other people get out of the building.
Mayor Bill de Blasio described Mensah as a "first generation immigrant, a soldier, and a New Yorker" in a solemn tweet posted Saturday. "He gave his life rescuing his neighbors in the Bronx fire. His heroism exemplifies the best of our city. Rest in peace."
Police identified the other victims as 48-year-old Gabriel Yaw Sarkookie, 54-year-old Justice Opoku, 49-year-old Solomon Donkor, 17-year-old Hannah Donkor and William Donkor, who is believed to be around 13 years old.
Four other people were in serious condition, Nigro said. As many as 20 people got out onto the fire escape minutes after the blaze started, he said.
With Mark Morales, Michael O'Keefe, Rajvi Desai and Matthew Chayes