Six members of the same family, including a boy on a Father's Day trip to Newark to honor his deceased dad, were killed when a fast-moving fire ripped through a single-family home in New Jersey's largest city early Sunday.
The blaze broke out at the three-story residence at around 4 a.m., the Essex County Prosecutor's office said. The fire soon spread to another residence, and both homes were destroyed. Everyone in the second home managed to escape safely, authorities said.
A spokesman for the Newark Fire Department told the Star-Legder that flames were "already shooting out the window" of the houses when firefighters arrived.
Late Sunday, Essex County Acting Prosecutor Carolyn Murray identified the victims as Salome Stewart, 58; her husband Reginald, also 58; Salome's sister, Natasha Kinsale, 47; Noreen Johnson, 43; her son, Stephen Sydney, 15; and Zion Forbes, 11. The Stewarts and Kinsale lived in the house, according to authorities, while the other three were visiting.
Standing outside the burned-out residence, Stephen Sydney's grandmother, Iris, told The Associated Press a sheriff's deputy informed her after she arrived home from church that her grandson had died.
Iris Sydney said the boy and his mother were visiting from Crawford, Ga. so he could attend services at his father's church on Father's Day. Desmond Sydney, the boy's father, died in a bicycle accident two years ago. Iris Sydney said they didn't show up for church, as planned, and she returned home to find the deputy.
"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."
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined but it doesn't appear to be suspicious, said Thomas Fennelly, chief assistant prosecutor.
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.
Carol Valentine sorted through smoke-damaged photographs and photo albums with charred pages on the sidewalk in front of her fiance's home, which is next door to the residence where the fire started. Her fiance had been out of town and returned early Sunday to his home, which was already ablaze.
"He'd been delayed on planes for two days. He had gone to a graduation," she said. "Had he not been delayed, he would have been sleeping, and he probably wouldn't be alive."
She said she didn't know much about the neighbors.
A small storefront church called Tree of Life Ministries, on the other side of the home where 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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report