Tapes released after fire that killed three children

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    JAYDEN MITCHELL, 5, and A'laya Pickens, 4, died in a Christmas Eve fire in Gary along with Yaleah Cohen, 2. (Provided by Willie Carter)

    Crusader staff report

    Dramatic audio tapes that recorded frantic callers who saw three children perish in an apartment fire in 2016 were released Wednesday, February 21, rekindling the horrific moments that shocked a community in Gary.

    The fire happened two months ago at the Oak Knoll apartment complex, located in the 4400 block of West 23rd Court. Here, three young cousins, Jayden Mitchell, 5, A’laya Pickens, 4, and Yaleah Cohen, 2, died in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve after being trapped inside as their apartment became an inferno. Neighbors and relatives stood helpless and horrified as they watched the flames engulf the two-story apartment and the children inside.

    According to the newly-released audio tapes, the calls started coming in at 11:23 p.m. on December 23.

    “Lord Jesus Christ, Lord Jesus Christ. Oh my God,” one terrified woman told a dispatcher.

    Amid screams and failed rescue efforts, callers struggled to describe the scene, but many were overwhelmed with shock.

    Dispatchers heard “Oh my God” many times.

    One neighbor said so much black smoke was coming out of the door that she was unable to read the apartment number to tell responders.

    “It’s literally smoke and flames. You can’t see,” another caller said.

    One caller witnessing the fire said, “I think the parents are screaming and hollering.” In a few of the calls, a woman is heard wailing.

    “Who’s screaming in the background?” a dispatcher asked a caller.

    “I think that’s the mom,” a female caller responded.

    Another caller said that a man from the apartment “is burnt up.”

    Some of the emergency calls were hangups. Some were broken up portions of a single call, However, dispatchers were able to piece together information to help the Gary Fire Department when they arrived.

    A few callers who described the scene to dispatchers that night wondered how the fire could have spread so quickly. One woman asked, “How in the world did that happen?” Another said, “Somebody had to do this, I swear, because how the (expletive) is the (expletive) whole house just on fire like that?”

    Another woman told a dispatcher, “You can’t even go in there, sir. It’s engulfed. Can’t nobody go in there.”

    People could hear screaming and crying in the background.

    Indiana State Fire Marshal has finished its investigations. The Gary Police Department is conducting a criminal investigation after the Gary Fire Department concluded that arson caused the blaze.

    Hurry, hurry, hurry,” a caller said.

    “They’re on the way,” a dispatcher responded.

    Dispatchers quickly pieced together that there were three children inside the two-story apartment on fire. One man went inside the apartment, but quickly left the unit after he realized that he was on fire. Later, responders would find two of the children in an upstairs room and the third at the top of the stairway.

    As a dispatcher stayed on the phone with a man, she asked, “Is it getting bad?” The man paused in silence and replied, “Oh my God. I don’t know what to do.”

    One caller described seeing people rush to the scene to help while some tried to kick the door in to get to the children, but the fire had grown too big.

    The Indiana State Fire Marshal was called in to complete their own investigation. Officials have not yet released the report.

     

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