CHICAGO (CBS) — Police and child welfare workers are investigating the mother of two toddlers killed in a fire after they were allegedly left alone in a West Englewood apartment, officials said.
Authorities believe there was no adult supervision when a fire erupted at an apartment building in the 6400 block of South Paulina, killing two young children identified by the Cook County medical examiner’s office as Javaris Meakens, 2, and his 3-year-old sister, Jariyah.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services confirmed the two were siblings.
A hot plate being used for heat in the first-floor apartment may have sparked the blaze on one of the chilliest nights this season, authorities said, adding that the fire was believed to be an accident.
Child welfare workers are investigating allegations of neglect against the mother of the two children who died in the fire, said DCFS spokesman Jimme Whitelow.
As DCFS began its investigation, police were questioning the mother of the children and their aunt, but no charges had been filed late Saturday. Police said prosecutors sought to file felony child endangerment charges in the case.
Firefighters arrived at 3:25 a.m. to find flames shooting from a side bedroom window on the first floor of the building, where Javaris and Jariyah were trapped, authorities said. Crews sawed off the bars from a basement window in an effort to rescue the two children, authorities said, but it was too late.
Two boys — Darnell, 7, and Marquis, 4 — were rescued from the burning building by a relative and were under the care of state welfare workers, authorities said.
Next-door neighbor Javon Wilkins said he was awakened by the smell of smoke and firefighters knocking on their door to get them out.
“When I came down, the only thing you saw was flames coming through the house [next door], and everybody running out of my house,” Wilkins said. “It was crazy.”
About 80 people gathered Saturday night at the now boarded-up residence to mourn the two children who perished in the fire.
Friends and neighbors gathered with pink and blue balloons and white candles at a memorial of stuffed animals in front of the home, where they prayed.
The group of mourners huddled, many of whom bowed their heads and closed their eyes before releasing balloons into the night sky.
Adrienne Watson, a friend of the children’s mother, said the little boy was the “the best bad boy.”
“He loved to hit you and run,” Watson, 27, said.
She said the little girl was a girly-girl until one of her three brothers messed with her.
“She could be a girly-girl but she could turn tomboy on them,” she said.
While the fire department said the children were home alone, Watson and other neighbors said the children’s mother wasn’t known for leaving her kids home by themselves.
Tameisha Brown, 28, a former neighbor who now lives in Gary, Ind., said of the kids, “Words can’t even describe.” She said of the loss: “This is the worst pain ever.”
Watson said the children’s mother, a single mom of four kids, was a good mom.
“As long as her kids had, then nothing else mattered,” Watson said.
“She’s a good mother to her kids,” said Reggie Stanford, 38, an Evergreen Park resident and a friend of the children’s mother. “They’ll be missed.”
The little boy was very social. “He would be the first one running to the front door,” if someone rang the doorbell, he said.
And of the little girl, he said she had a beautiful smile.
“They’re just babies,” said Stanford’s girlfriend, Jammie Sheppard, 37, of Evergreen Park. “They were taken way too young.”
Neighbors say the children who perished in the fire lived with their mother, two cousins, and aunt and uncle.
Neighbor LaTasha Marsh said Javaris and Jariyah often played with her 5-year-old daughter.
“Where [were] the parents? They said they [were] out but that’s very not like them to not be there,” Marsh said. “I see them with their kids all the time….That’s why I’m like that’s sad because it’s a couple of days before Christmas and now she has to deal with her two kids gone.”
She said she saw the mother days ago returning home with a bag full of Christmas presents for her kids.
“She loved them kids,” Marsh said.
Dan Spaulding, the building’s owner, said there were only three people listed on the lease — the mother and her two children. He also said detectives told him there might also have been a space heater in use in addition to the hot plate.
He said he’s crushed by the news. “I just was so, so completely just shocked when I found out that all of this happened without any parents around, and that just shouldn’t happen.”
“Wind back the tape and a parent could have been in the house, get everyone evacuated and then everyone would be fine. That’s now how it went and it’s heartbreaking.”
Contributing: Sun-Times Media Wire. (Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)