NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A soldier visiting New York City who had been reported missing following a deadly fire in the Bronx was among the 12 people killed in the massive blaze, sources tell CBS2.
The 28-year-old was in for the holidays – his first trip home since joining the Army a year ago. He was staying with friends in the Prospect Street building and died a hero – as smoke filled the hallways.
“I thought maybe he was coming back,” said Kwabena Mensah, the victim’s father. “Unfortunately, it turns out the other way.”
Kwabena Mensah was on the scene as early as Friday morning, looking for any signs of his son after checking area hospitals. He told CBS2’s Jessica Layton his son spent his final moments trying to rescue residents – and he was not surprised that his son did so.
“That’s what I think, because it was in his nature,” the elder Mensah said. “He wanted to help people out.”
As smoke engulfed the building on Prospect Avenue just before 7 p.m. Thursday, family after family desperately ran out, barefoot and freezing, to try to get to safety.
“When I wake up, all I see is the flames going up, kids are on the fire escape,” said neighbor Rafael Gonzalez. “It was one apartment and then it escalated to two apartments. It just kept going next and up — it escalated.”
Emmanuel Mensah’s roommate was the last to see him. She made it out with her four children and husband but lost Mensah in the mix.
“Tried to call and phone everywhere, my husband went to hospital,” she told CBS2’s Reena Roy.
Kwaben Mensah took comfort knowing his son lived and died a hero.
“God is in control, I have no control. God is in control,” he said.
The American Red Cross Greater New York is helping dozens of residents who were forced out in the bitter cold by the fire.
As firefighters scrambled to save tenants, the Red Cross arrived on scene to wrap residents in blankets and provide buses for shelter as temperatures lingered in the teens with the wind chill below zero.
“No coat or nothing, straight shorts,” said Gonzalez. “Straight shorts so I know, therefore, I know they had to be cold.”
“It was like freezing point, so it was worse for people who wasn’t ready and dressed appropriately – with no shoes or any of that,” said one woman who was evacuated to a warming bus.
Some good Samaritans also stepped in offering their neighbors supplies.
“It was families in there, we know all these people, we love them,” said neighbor Kimberly Wilkins. “Bringing out blankets, trying to help people.”
Officials on Friday said the fire was caused by a young boy playing with the burners on the stove.
Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Esposito said a nearby school, Crotona International Academy, 2474 Crotona Ave., had been opened as a reception center for those displaced.
Twelve people were confirmed dead in the fire, including four children. Mayor Bill de Blasio said four people were also in critical condition and fighting for their lives late Friday.
“This is the worst fire tragedy we have seen in this city in at least a quarter century,” de Blasio said. “Based on the information we have now, this will rank as one of the worst losses of life to a fire in many, many years.”
A tremendous amount of pain was being felt in the community following the stunning loss of life.
Ashley witnessed the emotion first hand as several of the kids who did survive were taken to the daycare in her building, WCBS 880’s Mike Smeltz reported.
“The kids were crying and they just put them inside the daycare real quick,” she said.
Those displaced who have not yet connected with the Red Cross can call 877 RED CROSS.