CLEVELAND – Fire ripped through a rented Cleveland house early Saturday during a children's sleepover, killing seven children and two adults, all found dead on the second floor.
Eleven people were in the house in the eastern part of the city when the blaze started around 3 a.m., said Assistant Fire Chief Tim O'Toole (search). O'Toole said at least one of the children was at the house for a sleepover. The victims were ages 4 to 34.
A mother and several of her children were among those killed, authorities and neighbors said. It was unclear whether the others were related.
One of the house's occupants was treated at a hospital, but the extent of the injuries wasn't known, O'Toole said. Another survivor didn't require hospital treatment.
The mother, identified by neighbors and the coroner's office as Media Carter, was known in the neighborhood for welcoming her children's friends into her home, offering them rides to school and hosting sleepovers. Authorities said Carter lived in the house with her six children.
"She was real respected. She treated me like a son," said Devon Cabeza, 14. He said he played basketball with one of the victims, an eighth-grade classmate.
Autopsies revealed that three of the children died of smoke inhalation and burns, said Dr. Heather Raaf, an assistant Cuyahoga County coroner. Raaf said the remaining six autopsies would be done Sunday.
An investigation into the fire's cause centered on the house's first floor, which sustained heavy fire damage, O'Toole said. The second floor, where all the bodies were found, was heavily damaged by smoke and soot, he said.
"It obviously had a large volume of fire; it's certainly severely fire damaged," he said.
Much of the house's white wooden frame was charred jet black and the roof over the front porch was partially collapsed. Every visible window had been knocked out by firefighters or shattered in the fire.
As daylight broke, dozens of neighbors, family and friends gathered near the scene, hugging and crying as they surveyed the obvious damage to the 99-year-old home. A smell of soot hung in the air, and firefighters shoveled debris onto a small fenced front yard. The house's barred security door hung by one hinge.
Richard Carter told WKYC-TV that he lost his daughter and several grandchildren in the blaze.
"I just want somebody to pray for me and my family," he said through tears as he trembled in the chilly spring air.
Neighbors said Media Carter was well-known on the street in the working class neighborhood about 3 miles from downtown where many of the older homes are rented to lower-income families. Many of the houses have been refurbished, but a few are boarded up.
"She was kind of a homebody type. She took care of her kids," said Minnie Hurd, 25, an acquaintance and former neighbor. She said the children excelled in school and always had friends over.
Neta Dawson, who lives across the street, said she awoke in the early morning to loud pops that sounded like gunfire. Her son, Jennings Dawson, owned the house but didn't live there.
According to Cuyahoga County (search) auditor's office documents, the 1,712-square-foot house had four-bedrooms.
She said her son is a good landlord and took good care of the property. He spent several hours at the fire scene but left upset. A family member agreed to pass along an interview request.
"He's taking it hard," said Neta Dawson, 69.
She said her 14-year-old grandson, nephew of the landlord, had stopped in the home Friday evening and was thinking about staying over for the night but ended up leaving. "He said it was too crowded," she said.
No further information on the victims' identities was immediately available. It wasn't immediately clear how many of the victims lived at the house.