“I had no idea there were that many people in the building,” said Laurie Roma, 44, who lives across the street from the blaze and had awakened to the sound of screaming. “I knew there were kids that resided in the home. I knew it was a P.H.A. home. And I just was hoping that everyone got out.”
She said that she had tried calling 911 that morning but no one answered, and that a neighbor also said there had been trouble getting through. A spokesman for the city said 911 had received the first calls about the fire at 6:36 a.m. and fielded dozens of calls after that. The first firefighters arrived on the scene at 6:40.
But for 12 people it was already too late.
“We just were, you know, coming together stronger than previous,” Ms. Purifoy said on Wednesday evening. The family had recently lost their father, she said, which had brought them even closer. “We always stayed together because we were a family. We weren’t just, you know, people that’s just out here saying, ‘Oh that’s my cousin, that’s my sister’ and then they don’t know what’s going on in each other’s life.”
Up the street from the burned-out building, Sumara Wright, 18, stood outside the elementary school, having walked over that morning to pick up laptops for her siblings so they could work remotely. A teacher told her about the fire, and that one of the victims was Ms. Wright’s close friend and classmate. He and his siblings had been in the building that morning.
“It was heartbreaking,” Ms. Wright said. “I had just seen him two days ago riding his bike.”
Reporting was contributed by Maria Cramer, Amanda Holpuch, Neil Vigdor, Jesus Jiménez and Alan Yuhas. Kitty Bennett contributed research.