Husband and father Samuel Curtis lost all but one of his family members in a massive Saturday fire that ripped through a Michigan motel, killing his wife and five of their children.
Curtis was the father of some of the children who died, Berrien County Chief Deputy Robert Boyce said, adding that the father and a 1-year-old child were the only survivors in the family.
"His whole world's been turned upside down," Boyce said.
Killed in the fire were Kiarre Curtis, 26; Marquise Thompson, 10; Gerome Randolph, 7; Samuel Curtis, 5; Savod Curtis, 4; and Avery Curtis, 2, authorities said.
All eight family members had been staying in the same room at the Cosmo Extended Stay motel near Benton Harbor, in the southwestern portion of the state, along Lake Michigan.
Cassundra Clements told WSBT-TV of South Bend, Ind., that she tried helping Samuel Curtis.
“I tried to get the (surviving) baby from the man in case he fell down, but he wouldn’t give up the baby," Clements said. "He said 'This is all I have left.'"
Robert Payne, a motel resident, knew the five children who died.
"They never talked back; perfect," Payne said. "It breaks my heart that I ain't going to see them no more. That's a shame."
The 67-year-old said he sometimes gave them money for candy.
"It's tragic. It tears at your heart," Chief Deputy Boyce said. "Any time you have children, it's worse. When it's multiple children, it's even worse."
The victims are believed to have died from smoke inhalation, pending autopsies that were scheduled for Saturday, the South Bend Tribune reported.
The fire destroyed about 90 percent of motel, officials said. At the time, 27 rooms were occupied.
Four other people and four first responders also were transported to the hospital but have been released, WSBT reported.
"By the time we get outside, the end of the building exploded. The glass shattered out and there was big whoof of flame."
Another motel resident, Sarah Sanders, said she fled after a friend shouted at her to get out.
"By the time we get outside, the end of the building exploded," Sanders told the Tribune. "The glass shattered out and there was big whoof of flame."
The 911 call for the fire, in Berrien County, Mich., came in at 1:45 a.m. local time.
Other guests of the motel, about a two-hour drive southwest of Lansing, safely evacuated, officials said.
Boyce described the two-story motel as a place for people with low incomes to "get back on their feet."
Payne said the fire started just a few doors from his room.
"It breaks my heart that I ain't going to see them no more. That's a shame."
“I’m next to a fire and I’m alive and these people are dead,” Payne said, according to the Tribune. “I’m twisted up something pitiful.”
The cause of the fire was not immediately clear, but authorities were investigating.
Leroy Johnson, who lives in the motel, told WSBT that the fire might have ignited inside his room.
“As I woke up my bed was on fire. I said ‘Oh my God.’ I got my sheets and wet them and I tried to throw them on the bed and as I throw it on the bed it didn't work. So I asked the person above me for some salt,” Johnson said.
“As I throw salt on there I hurry and jump out, and once I jump out the whole room exploded.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.