A teenager on a Father's Day visit to Newark to honor his deceased dad died, along with his mother, an 11-year-old boy and three others, when a fast-moving fire ripped through a three-story home early Sunday, authorities and the boy's grandmother said.
Authorities say something sparked a flame that lit artificial flowers in the single-family home on fire, and the fire quickly spread through the rest of the home and to an adjacent home, the Essex County prosecutor's office said. Both homes were destroyed. No criminality is suspected.
At least one of the homes appeared to have no working smoke detectors.
Salome Stewart and her husband, Reginald Stewart, both 58, were killed in the blaze at their house. Salome's sister, Natasha Kinsale, 47, who lived in the house, died as well, along with Zion Forbes, 11 and Stephon Sydney, 15, who were visiting. Stephon's mother, Noreen Johnson, 43, also died.
Iris Sydney, of neighboring Irvington, stood outside the burned-out residence later Sunday, clutching a framed studio portrait of her grandson and his mother. They were supposed to meet her for a Father's Day service at the Solid Rock church, where his father attended services before he died two years ago in a bicycle accident in Newark, she told The Associated Press. But they never showed up.
When Sydney returned home from church, a sheriff's deputy was standing at her door and said that her grandson and his mother died in the fire.
Sydney, 77, said the boy and his mother were visiting from Crawford, Georgia, and were staying with Johnson's relatives at the house, now black and charred, when the fire broke out. The boy had gotten a haircut for church.
"I can't believe this," she said. "But I'm telling you: I buried my husband ... I bury my son, and now this is my grandchild. I feel it. I feel it in my heart ... This is a sad day for the Sydney family. It is."
Authorities have not determined the cause of the fire but say it doesn't appear to be suspicious, according to Thomas Fennelly, chief assistant prosecutor. Everyone in the second home managed to escape safely, he said.
All that remained of the home Sunday afternoon was the blackened frame, with piles of twisted furniture and belongings spilling out of the empty sills that once held windows. The white fence around the front of the property was still intact.
Sydney said both sides of Stephon's family have ties to the Caribbean. She is a native of Georgetown, Guyana, and Stephon had been scheduled to go with his maternal grandmother on Wednesday to her native Trinidad and Tobago for a month-long visit with family there.
Cheryl Sydney, the teenager's aunt, was still wearing her white church dress and pearls as she stood across the street from the fire-ravaged house. She described how she admired both her nephew and his mother and listed their good qualities.
"Main thing is that she was a good person, a young, vibrant person," Cheryl Sydney said. "This is my nephew — young, 15-years-old, artistic, poetry, dancer — did not deserve this."
Interim Mayor Luis A. Quintana, who went to the scene as firefighters worked to control the blaze, said in a statement Sunday, "Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of our six residents whose lives were taken by this horrific fire.
"As we mourn the loss of these six residents, I ask Newarkers to cherish being with their families today and keep all those affected by this fire in their prayers," he said.
A small storefront church called Tree of Life Ministries, on the other side of the home where the six died, appeared undamaged. Neighbors gathered outside the home — many in their Sunday church clothes — shaking their heads at the loss of so many lives.
The Rev. Thomas Ellis lives in the neighborhood and stopped by to offer his support.
"For the city of Newark, this is a sad and tragic day," he said. "The community is hurting."
He and about 15 others held a prayer vigil Sunday evening.