5 Siblings Dead in North Minneapolis Duplex Fire

Updated: 02/16/2014 4:32 PM
Created: 02/14/2014 5:29 AM
By: Cassie Hart

Five of seven siblings were killed in a three-alarm fire at a duplex in North Minneapolis on Friday morning, according to a source. Two siblings remain in critical condition and their father is in serious condition.

The home is on the 2800 block of North Colfax Avenue near North 29th Avenue. The building is a multiple-family home with at least two units.

It is believed the fire started in the center of the second floor and then extended to the first floor before climbing to the third, Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said.

The fire chief said they received a call about smoke in the area around 5 a.m. Friday. When crews arrived, they found heavy smoke on the second and third floors, which quickly changed to heavy fire.

"Crews did a remarkable job of extracting what victims they could," said Fruetel. "They made entrance into the structure under very, very precarious conditions."

Two families lived in the duplex, with one family occupying both the second and third floors, Fruetel said.

Three victims, all of which were children, were pronounced dead at the scene, Fruetel said. Five additional victims, including 60-year-old Troy Lewis, the father, were transported to local hospitals. Lewis' two other daughters Shakka and Elektra remained in critical condition Saturday morning at Hennepin County Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said.

A neighbor tells us the children's mother died last month.

North Memorial says two minors were brought there following the fire.

Two of the five victims taken to hospitals later died, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office.

According to Minneapolis Public Schools, one of the victims was a first grader and one was a second grader at Bethune Community School. The district has been working with teachers and parents on how to break the news to the young students.

The school will have support and counseling for students Tuesday morning. Students will not be in school Monday due to Presidents Day.

A total of 15 people were living in the duplex and 7 of them have been displaced. The American Red Cross is assisting the three adults and four children who made it out of the fire without injury.

The victims' neighbor, Denardo Newell, said, "Just knowing them as a face on my block, or in my neighborhood." And the neighborhood, along Colfax Avenue North, is coming together. "Due to this terrible tragedy that happened in our neighborhood and everything like that," Newell said.

When asked what he wants the community to know and remember in light of this tragedy, neighbor Denardo Newell responded saying, "Life [and] love."

And at nearby Bethune Community School, "It's been a very difficult day," Stan Alleyne said. He's the Chief Public Information Officer with Minneapolis Public Schools. "We lost two students today," Alleyne said. "We ended up going into classrooms and pulling out teachers in groups and informing them of the news. we also sent a call home to families to let them know. We are guiding some of the families with how to communicate this news to our students. These are young students."

Alleyne said counselors will be available to talk with children in school on Tuesday.

A vigil will be in front of the family's home on Saturday at 1 p.m.

According to city records, the duplex was last inspected about six months ago. At the time, inspectors found several issues, including a broken smoke detector. However, over the next few months, all of the problems were fixed, and the duplex was given a new rental license one week before the fire.

Fire investigators said they believe smoke detectors were properly installed and functioning at the time of the fire.

A company called Mission Inn Minnesota owns the duplex. The company also owns about 20 other Minneapolis properties -- mostly foreclosure sales that the company refurbishes and rents out to low-income residents. Paul Bertelson, who runs the company, said he bought the duplex in 2009, and that there were no issues whatsoever with the building at the time of the fire.

More than 40 firefighters were dispatched to the scene, and one of them was injured, according to the Minneapolis Police Department.

A cause has not yet been determined; investigators will be on the scene for the rest of the day. They confirmed that they found a space heater on the second floor, where the fire is believed to have started, but that it's too early to tell whether it played a role in the fire -- or whether it was even in use at the time. Investigators also said the fire is not believed to be suspicious in nature.

“The entire community is affected by this fire,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said. “We need to rally together on behalf of the folks here. This is a tragic moment for the city of Minneapolis, a tragic moment for North Minneapolis and a tragic moment for this neighborhood and family.”

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton issued the following statement Friday afternoon:

“Today we mourn the loss of five Minnesotans, some of them children, whose lives were taken by a terrible in-home fire.  I offer my deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims.  I also want to thank the Minneapolis firefighters and other first responders, whose heroism saved lives this morning.”

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