Chicago residents mourn deaths of six children

Chicago residents mourn deaths of six children

By The Associated Press

CHICAGO – Hundreds of residents of a working-class community on Chicago’s North Side mourned Wednesday the loss of six children killed in an apartment fire over the Labor Day weekend.

With six white caskets at the front of St. Jerome’s Catholic Church, the service began with singing and the quiet strumming of a Spanish guitar. They sang about the “presencia del Senor,” the presence of the Lord.

The Mass was conducted mostly in Spanish, as the mourners in the neighborhood – an entry point for many Latin American immigrants to Chicago – listened to a speaker read an essay written by the oldest child who died in the fire. The essay was about her mother.

“I am very proud of her because she has had to work very hard since she was little because she was very poor,” read the speaker from the essay written by 14-year-old Vanessa Ramirez.

Friends have said Augusta Tellez came to the United States from Mexico to give her children a better life, and in the essay, Vanessa thanked her mother.

Vanessa was the oldest of five members of the same family killed in the fire along with a sixth child, 3-year-old Escarlet Ramos, whom the family was baby-sitting. The others killed were 12-year-old Erick Ramirez, Suzette Ramirez, 10; Idaly Ramirez, 6; and Kevin Ramirez, 3. Two other children remained hospitalized Wednesday with second- and third-degree burns, said family spokeswoman Lorena Chambers.

Natalie Ramirez, 16, was listed in fair condition at University of Chicago Hospital. Officials at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood declined to comment on 7-year-old William Ramirez’s condition. Chambers said he was being treated in the hospital’s burn unit.

The fire department said the accidental blaze in the third-floor apartment was started by a candle the family was using for light because the apartment had no electricity. Authorities also said there were no smoke detectors in the apartment.

According to the fire department, Tellez ran out of the apartment clutching one child, screaming to neighbors that there were more children inside. She and a three-month-old girl were treated for smoke inhalation; two other children were hospitalized.

One witness reported hearing the children scream, “Help! Help! We’re burning, we’re burning!”

During the Mass, Auxiliary Bishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller consoled Tellez, her husband and other family members, telling them they aren’t alone and the children are now in heaven. He repeatedly pointed to the crowded church as evidence of the community’s support.

“At times, you may feel alone but we are with you,” he told the grieving parents. “You are not alone.”

Many mourners, which included the children’s former classmates, fought back tears as the caskets were slowly wheeled down the church aisle.

The church’s bell then tolled once each time a casket was carried out into the rain.