Suffolk County Officials: Investigation Ongoing

SHIRLEY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A fast-moving fire left a mother and her three young children dead on Long Island late Friday.

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As CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell reported, the fast-moving fire started inside a home on Hollywood Drive just after 10 p.m. Friday.

The victims were a mother, her 2-year-old fraternal twins – a girl and a boy – and her 7-year-old son, 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reported.

The mother was identified as Jennifer McKusker, 41. The twins were identified as Ava Jane Mistretta and Brendan Mistretta, and the older boy as Aidan Tarbell.

All of the victims were pronounced dead at Brookhaven Medical Center in East Patchogue. The Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office will conduct autopsies to determine the causes of their deaths.

Neighbors said the fire spread quickly as they watched helplessly.

“I heard loud popping noise and I came outside and the house was engulfed in flames,” said neighbor Ruth-Ann Krafve. “It was pouring out the windows, out the sides, it was nothing, nothing I could do.”

A neighbor saw flames at the home and called 911 as her two sons tried to get into the home, Suffolk County police said. The two men – one of whom is an emergency medical technician and the other of whom is a firefighter – could not enter the home due to smoke and heat.

Neighbors said the house was already engulfed by the time firefighters arrived.

“It was fully engulfed in flames – flames everywhere; it was bright, you know,” said neighbor John Craig. “I mean, the fire department came; they did a great job. They were all very upset.”

The family was well-known to neighbors, who said the father was not home because he worked the night shift. Neighbors were particularly distraught about the children who lost their lives.

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“Every day they play, they swap clothes, they share snacks, they go to the ice cream truck – they were kids,” Krafve said. “They were just babies.”

The fire started in the living room, officials said. The mother and the twins were in the back bedroom, and the boy was found in the front bedroom.

Police said McCusker was holding one of the twins, and trying to get the other from a crib, when she collapsed inside the one-story home, WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported.

“It appears that the mother was attempting to remove one of the children or had removed one of the children from the crib and was attempting to move the other child from the crib when she had become unconscious,” Suffolk County Police Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick explained.

Shirley Fatal Fire

Neighbors mourn in Shirley, L.I., after a fire left a mother and three children dead. (Credit: Sophia Hall/WCBS 880)

Fire investigators were at the scene trying to determine the cause of the blaze, and the Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad was dispatched to determine whether the family died as a result of the fire, or if they might have been dead before the blaze began.

On Saturday night a choked up Peter Mistretta faced the grim reality that his family was gone.

“Aiden, Brendan, and Ava were the three best kids that any father could hope for,” he told CBS 2’s Steve Langford.

In the wake of tragedy Mistretta offered grief filled sentiments for other parents.

“Just hug your kids, your wives or husbands, cause you never know when they could be taken from you,” he said.

Anyone with information about the fire was asked to call the Suffolk County police Homicide Squad at (631) 852-6392 or Crime Stoppers at (800) 220-TIPS.

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