Community mourns two boys killed in Grosse Pointe house fire

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Grosse Pointe — Just before sunrise on Monday, neighbors first saw smoke and then heard screams for help coming from a home on Fisher Road, where two boys lived with their parents.

Some tried to break their way into the two-story brick home where two young brothers, ages 9 and 11, were trapped upstairs. They were pushed back by the flames.

Fire personnel work the scene of a fire that killed two boys at a home on the 700 block of Fisher in Grosse Pointe on Monday.

Firefighters soon arrived and found the first floor fully engulfed. Once firefighters entered, a search of the home revealed the bodies of the two children in an upper bedroom.

School had been delayed until 9:05 a.m. Monday due to a scheduled professional development day. The normal entry bell is 8:20 a.m. Tuesday through Friday, according to the district website.

Public Safety Director Stephen Poloni described the scene that unfolded for hours on Monday, leaving the Grosse Pointe community stunned.

"We ask that everybody think about the family and pray for them," Poloni said. "It's got to be unbelievable what they are going through at this time."

Grosse Pointe Public Safety Director Steve Poloni details what authorities know about a deadly house fire in the city on Monday.

The identities of the victims were not made available Monday afternoon. Poloni said he expected autopsies to be done on Tuesday.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Michigan State Police are investigating the cause of the fire and its origin, Poloni said. The fire possibly started in the kitchen, Poloni said.

The father of the children was not home at the time of the fire, Poloni said. Whether the mother was home was not clear, he said. 

The department received a 911 call about 7:51 a.m. Monday for a house fire on the 700 block of Fisher. Poloni said police units arrived in two minutes and fire trucks in four minutes.

Poloni said he did not know if the 911 call came from within the home and whether fire detectors were operating in the home. Poloni described the incident as a three-alarm fire that included departments from Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe Park.

One neighbor who lives directly across the street from the family said the children were normal kids who liked to shoot hockey pucks outside in the driveway and run around like all children.

A  firefighter walks out of a home on the 700 block of Fisher in Grosse Pointe.

The neighbor, who declined to give his name, said he, too, saw the smoke and heard cries for help Monday. He said a motorist in a silver pickup truck stopped in the street and ran to the home to help, trying to break out a window to get inside.

The neighbor said the man was unsuccessful and the windows soon blew out due to the heat.

The two boys attended Richard Elementary School in nearby Grosse Pointe Farms and were in the fourth and fifth grades, according to school and police officials.

Earlier in the day, Judy Gafa, a member of the Grosse Pointe board of education, said the district was preparing to send crisis counselors to the elementary school, which was placed on lockdown after the fire.

"This is heartbreaking," Gafa said. "Each family will have to approach and tell their kids in their own way."

The district sent an email to families informing them of the fire and death of the students at 10:30 a.m. Monday.

Later in the day, a second email was sent to parents of Richard families, saying the district's mental health crisis team would be at the school and available to students and teachers struggling with the news.

District officials encouraged parents to talk to their children about what happened.

"I know that none of us wants to share this information with our children," Richard Elementary principal John Kernan said. "However, it is best that they hear about this tragedy from their guardians/parents."

On Tuesday, school officials will be meeting with the fourth- and fifth-grade classes to inform them of what happened and to answer questions, Kernan said in the email.

"Tuesday is going to be a hard day at Richard. One of the best ways we can help our children is to maintain daily routines, while supporting their grieving process."

Superintendent Gary Niehaus said on Monday that social workers and a school psychologist would be on site to talk to students about the tragedy.

"We do anticipate having all these things in place for the balance of the week so we can monitor," Niehaus said. "We are dealing with it a little bit at a time. You never want to lose a student or someone that young. It's hard to explain."

Jennifer Kenyon was walking her dog near the scene of the house fire and stopped to look across the yellow crime scene tape as restoration workers began to clean the home.

Kenyon's daughter attended Richard for two years and is the same age and grade as the oldest victim. Kenyon, who lives on a street behind Fisher in Grosse Pointe Farms, said she was struggling with how to speak to her young daughter Monday night about the deaths of such young children.

"He could have been in her class," Kenyon said of the older child, shaking her head.

As for talking to her daughter, Kenyon said: "I will focus on how precious life is and how we can't take anything for granted and just be so grateful for what we have."