A woman who lives in the Staten Island building ravaged by a pre-dawn blaze says she thanks the officer who woke her up for helping save the lives of her and her children and calls the deaths of the victims a "tragedy."
Mourners including relatives and schoolteachers gathered Tuesday at a wake for a mother and her four children who died in a murder-suicide at a home that was set on fire.
Five white caskets rested together in the funeral home. Only one was open — that of a 2-year-old boy who was pulled from the fire alive but later died at a hospital from smoke inhalation.
Firefighters responding to the burning Staten Island home nearly two weeks ago also discovered the charred remains of 32-year-old Leisa Jones, her 7- and 10-year-old daughters and her 14-year-old son. The children's throats had been slit — by their mother, police say.
People who attended Tuesday's wake said they'd been trying to understand what happened.
"These were people that were beloved," said mourner Donald Daley, Jones' cousin.
Jones slit the throats of her three older children and sat with them and her toddler in their burning home until she died of smoke inhalation, police say.
To Daley, who lives in Washington, D.C., the deaths of the children were the most difficult to comprehend.
"They were all innocent, beautiful kids," he said, breaking down in tears.
Tuesday's wake for the family at the Brooklyn Funeral Home & Cremation Service attracted mostly family members but also teachers from P.S. 44, which some of the children attended.
One woman, supported by two people, labored to walk up to the caskets. At the open casket where the body of the toddler, Jermaine, rested, she paused, covered her mouth and sobbed. She was helped to a seat in the front row.
The July 22 fire also claimed the lives of 7-year-old Melonie, 10-year-old Brittney and 14-year-old C.J.
The fire initially was considered accidental, but police later said the case was a murder-suicide and the throats of the two girls and the teen boy had been cut.
At first, the investigation focused on C.J., who was found with a razor under his body and had a history of starting fires. But the medical examiner's office later ruled the deaths of the children as homicides and ruled Jones' death a suicide.
A funeral is planned for Thursday in Washington, D.C., where the family will be buried at Glenwood Cemetery.