Panicked calls before learning fire kills 5 in Flint family

Flint — It was news Resheema Whitner never imagined hearing.

A panicked call from a relative out of state early Monday about a devastating fire at her cousin's home blocks away spurred the city native to rush over, where she saw the smoldering remains and learned the unfathomable truth.

Deon Bradley, Whitner's 30-year-old cousin, died in the blaze along with her partner of a decade, Darron Brown, and three of their children: 4-year-old daughter, Deonnia, and two sons, Davion, 6, and Darron Jr., 9.

Deon Bradley and Darron Brown had four children ranging in age from 4 to 9.

A fourth child survived and was hospitalized. 

Tending to his needs and planning to bury five family members at once weighs heavily on Whitner.

"They were good people. They were happy people," she said. "They were the life of the party."

As relatives mourn, authorities are working to determine what sparked the deadly blaze.

Resheema Whitner, 37, of Flint, a cousin of the victims, finds a Walmart employee shirt while looking for items after a house fire at 1653 Euclid Ave. in Flint.

The fire erupted in a two-floor, single-family home on the 1600 block of Euclid Avenue at about 4:15 a.m., said Mark Kovach, the Flint Fire Department battalion chief.

By that time, the second floor of the home was smoked filled.

Whitner said a neighbor alerted one of her relatives in another state and had tried to open the front door, but the metal-fronted door was too hot. The property did not have smoke detectors, she said.

Neighbors told Whitner one of the children at the home, 8-year-old Deon Brown, escaped by leaping from a window.

"He tried to save his little sister, but he couldn’t," she told The Detroit News.

Kovach confirmed the child escaped and was the only survivor.

He was listed in stable condition at Hurley Medical Center late Monday after appearing to have suffered smoke inhalation, Whitner said.

Deon Bradley and Darron Brown Sr.

Deon Bradley had only recently returned to working at a Walmart in Grand Blanc after taking time off to deal with a lung condition and was not believed to have life insurance, Whitner said. 

The mother of four also known as "DeDe" told her she enjoyed working with the other staff and helping customers take groceries to their cars, she said. "She liked helping others. I want people to remember her as a peaceful person and an outgoing person."

The origin of the fire remains under investigation by the city's Police Department and Michigan State Police fire marshal, Kovach said.

Daveon Lorick Ford, 3, of Flint stands in front of the house at 1653 Euclid Ave. in Flint.

Flint fire officials said they were not releasing additional details on the incident Monday night.

Michigan State Police did not respond to a request for comment on the investigation.

Whitner said she also was awaiting word from investigators about the blaze at the home where Bradley and her family had lived for about three years.

Meanwhile, she and others are exploring ways to memorialize his parents and siblings.

"We're basically trying to get everything situated … so we can bury our family peacefully," she said.