TRENTON, N.J. (CBS 2) — A fast-moving fire killed a little boy in New Jersey, but out of that tragedy emerged an incredible story of survival.
Firefighters rescued a toddler who was treading water in the basement of his burning home, reports CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown.
There were mixed emotions in Trenton – grief over the death of a seven-year-old boy, mixed with gratitude that an 18-month-old little boy miraculously managed to survive.
Firefighters say it was nothing less than a miracle that 18-month-old Augustine Pope is still alive.
When a raging fire tore through the home at midnight, his mother, aunt, and two little girls who were also sleeping there managed to escape to safety.
Little Augustine, though, couldn’t get out, and intense flames kept firefighters from getting in.
When Augustine hadn’t been found two hours later, his family assumed the worst. Then, Battalion Chief John Gribbin peered into a basement window.
“I took my helmet off and stuck my head in the window, and I saw a young child looking at me, and he was up to his mouth in water,” Gribbin said.
He immediately flagged down a fellow firefighter, and continued to talk to the little boy.
“Twice, when I was talking to him, he went underwater,” Gribbin said. “The second time, when he came back up, I told him to hang onto the heater. ‘It’s right behind you,’ I said, ‘that big blue box, hang onto it,’ [and] he grabbed it.”
Rescuers were eventually able to pull Augustine to safety, but they later made a grisly discovery: the body of seven-year-old Aldrey Anderson, Augustine’s cousin, who never made it out. Family members are grief-stricken.
“He was very active. He always liked to be around people,” Aldrey’s cousin, Sweetee Sengbloh, said. “It’s very hard. It’s so hard.”
Family members insist they told firefighters that the child was trapped inside, and Augustine’s mother wonders why her child was spared, but her nephew couldn’t be saved.
“After two hours, if they can find my son, they should’ve took five minutes to go upstairs and find my nephew,” Mokonjay Sengbloh said.
Members of the Liberian community are meeting to discuss how they can help the family after the tragic fire.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.