Community stunned by death of five Friday in three-alarm fire.
By Lia Eustachewich and James Kleimann
July 22, 2012
Residents in Newark’s West Ward are still reeling from the fast-moving blaze on Brookdale Avenue that killed five people, including three children, early Friday morning.
Red balloons reading “I love you” and “Happy birthday” and two teddy bears dangled from yellow police tape roping off the gutted homes on Brookdale Avenue, where a fire began inside a vacant home shortly after 1:30 a.m. Friday quickly and ripped through several homes. Tiny girls’ shoes and a tattered children’s book were scattered on the sidewalk’s broken concrete.
Authorities have identified the dead as siblings Javena and Javens Joseph, ages 2 and 3, respectively, and Angela Williams, 5, Nazir Blackstone, 17 and Shelton Freeman, 44. Smoke inhalation is the preliminary cause of death for all five, who were found on the third floor of 33 Brookdale Ave.
Neighbors, some of whom stopped Sunday morning to stare at the scorched home, recalled the dead as being from quiet families that kept to themselves.
“We spoke on occasion. They were nice people. They didn’t deserve this,” said Vanessa McAdams, who lives a few doors down.
The vacant home at 31 Brookdale Ave., where the fire began, was demolished later that day, but the eerie skeleton of the death house still remains. Drivers slowly rode past the charred building and blackened rubble Sunday morning, mouths agape at the grisly scene that still smelled of smoke.
Blackstone, Freeman and Williams were found in the same front apartment, officials have said, but their relationship to one another is not yet clear. The mother of the children was reported to have been in the hospital delivering a baby when the fire ripped through her home. She and the parents of the Joseph children have not been identified.
The Joseph family, a quiet clan that recently moved to the area, neighbors said, lived in the rear apartment.
Residents said two other children from the Joseph family were rescued by a man they called the Brookdale Hero who didn’t hesitate before running into the burning building.
“He said he wished he could have grabbed them all,” said an emotional neighbor, who did not want to be identified. “The children were screaming ‘Mommy, daddy please help us!’ Then, the screaming stopped.”
She said the Brookdale Hero, who wishes to remain anonymous according to several neighbors, was unable to rescue Javena and Javens because of the intense heat.
“He rushed in to save people he didn’t even know,” said a woman who went by the name Tanya. “You know God sent him there … He saved them.”
Kenisha Bascuine said she used to hang with Blackstone on the front steps of the home and remembered him as a good kid who would help his mother do laundry on South Orange Avenue.
“He was cool, quiet. He never got into trouble,” said Bascuine, who lives on Brookdale Avenue.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, officials said Sunday. Several Newark firefighters appeared to be examining the burned structure and the foundation of the since-torn-down vacant home before leaving around noon.
Officials said the vacant home was properly secured before the fire broke out and had no open code violations. But multiple residents on the block said the building was a well-known drug haven frequented by squatters.
West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice vowed Friday to beef up the vacant residence with the city.
“By the end of next week this will be a forgotten story,” said McAdams. “But we won’t forget.”