Five siblings under the age of 10 died early Friday when a fire swept through their apartment in southwestern Illinois, and officials were investigating whether they had been left alone.
Fire crews were called to the building in East St. Louis, which is just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, before 3 a.m. and reported finding two children already dead inside a bedroom. The three other children were unconscious on the kitchen floor, and two of them were pronounced dead once they were taken outside, according to East St. Louis Assistant Fire Chief George McClellan. The fifth child was taken to a hospital and later died.
“The guys are taking it pretty hard,” McClellan told reporters of his firefighters.
St. Clair County Coroner Calvin Dye Sr. identified the victims as Deonta Davis Jr., 9; Neveah Dunigan and Heaven Dunigan, 8-year-old twins; Jabari Johnson, 4; and Roy-el Dunigan, 2.
Get Chicago local news, weather forecasts, sports and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Chicago newsletters.
McClellan said the children’s mother entered the building several times in an effort to rescue them.
Fire officials initially indicated that no adults had been in the apartment when the fire started, saying that the children’s mother had left to run an errand and returned home to find the fire.
But police later explained that investigators obtained new information and were trying to determine whether the children had been left unattended or whether a grandparent had been present, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
A relative told the newspaper that the family started living in the apartment after a fire destroyed their previous East St. Louis home five months ago.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Seven other families were displaced by the blaze, but they weren’t home when the fire broke out, officials said.