What to Know
- A fifth victim has died from her injuries in last week's Elizabeth, New Jersey store fire; her two children, 8- and 10-year-old girls also died, along with their 11-year-old friend and a 41-year-old woman
- Investigators believe the fire may have started inside a soda machine in the store where they were shopping and spread; the victims tried to escape through a rear stairway but it turned out there was no exit
- The city of Elizabeth has said it is looking into an egress issue on the second floor and investigating whether there was a building code violation
A fifth victim has succumbed to her injuries from a fire that tore through a New Jersey furniture store last week, taking the lives of three children, two of them sisters, and another adult, officials said Tuesday.
The Elizabeth mayor's office said that Merlyn Vasquez, who had been hospitalized in critical condition since the Oct. 5 fire at the store on Elizabeth Avenue and Jacques Street, had died late last week. Her two daughters -- 8-year-old Paola Marquez and 10-year-old Daniella Marquez -- died in the blaze, along with an 11-year-old friend, Elizabeth Correas. Investigators believe the fire may have started inside a soda machine in the store as they shopped and spread.
Officials have said the victims tried to escape through a rear stairway when the flames erupted but encountered a metal cage surrounding the area and no exit. The bodies of the 8- and 11-year-olds were recovered Monday night; the 10-year-old was found under debris in the same rear stairway area the next morning along with another victim, 41-year-old Candida Martinez del Reyes, a mother of four.
"They could see out .. but couldn't get out," Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage said the day after the blaze, adding the city is looking into an egress issue on the second floor and investigating whether there was a building code violation.
Video from Chopper 4 showed smoke and flames pouring out of the building that night. The fire continued to grow, eventually being upgraded to five alarms as firefighters battled the inferno. It raged for hours, with firefighters knowing the whole time there were several people trapped inside they couldn't get to, despite what was described to be a heroic effort by Elizabeth police.
Three officers who were in the area threw up a ladder to try and remove the metal cage with their bare hands, but couldn't get it off. One witness said a person from across the street tried breaking down a door to save the children but could not.
The investigation is ongoing.