Image: Burned out home in Chicago suburb
Seven people were killed when a fire broke out in this home in Cicero, Ill., on Sunday. The victims include a newborn baby, a 3-year-old and four teenagers.
updated 2/15/2010 10:14:03 PM ET 2010-02-16T03:14:03

A grandfather who had been planning to spend his weekend with his family celebrating his birthday and the arrival of a new grandson instead mourned the loss of three children, two grandchildren and two friends in a suburban Chicago fire.

Elijah Grays lost his 18-year-old daughter Sally Gist, 16-year-old twins Elicia and Elijah Gist, and Sally’s sons Rayshawn Gist, 3, and 3-day-old Byron Reed in the blaze that engulfed a three-story building where the family lived in Cicero early Sunday.

Sally’s 20-year-old boyfriend, Byron Reed, and Tiera Davidson, a 19-year-old family friend, also perished in the fire.

Family friend Kym Hackett told The Associated Press Monday that Grays, 49, was devastated by his loss. The Chicago Tribune described how Sally Gist and the twins’ mother, Allison Gist, had heard the victims calling out for her to help, but that she had been unable to save them.

“They lost everything, literally everything,” Hackett said. “They’re doing the best they can.”

Cicero Assistant Fire Marshal Ron Opalecky said investigators were trying to determine how the fire started, although they believed it originated in the back of the home. He said nothing has been ruled out.

“When we got in there, you could barely tell what was there,” Opalecky said.

Two victims were found on the first floor and five victims in the attic, he said. The Tribune said a single stairwell appeared to have been the only means of access to the uppermost room in the house.

He said smoke alarms were fitted in the building and were sounding when firefighters arrived at the scene.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office on Monday listed the cause of the victims’ deaths as “pending police and fire investigation.”

Cicero town spokesman Ray Hanania, who provided identities of the deceased to the AP, said 23 other people escaped the fire Sunday and that 20 of them needed alternative shelter.

The tragedy has certainly raised concerns about overcrowding, Hanania said.

“The big concern is how many people were living in a building like this?” Hanania said, adding that town officials planned to investigate.

“This is one of the worst tragedies we’ve had here in 25 years,” Hanania said. “I know everybody in the town of Cicero is just sick over this.”

Thirty-nine-year-old firefighter Dennis Shaun Ahrens suffered a head wound when a chimney collapsed on top of him during the blaze, and he remains in a hospital in guarded but critical condition, Assistant Fire Marshal Ted Kolin said.

Two other firefighters suffered non-severe injuries, Kolin said.

Amy Simmons of Chicago described the elder Byron Reed — her brother — as a devoted father with aspirations to complete school and pursue a carpentry apprenticeship.

“He was a great father. He was crazy about his boys,” Simmons said.

He was working on his GED at the Chicago Urban League. “He wanted to be someone that his boys could model themselves after,” she said.

Next door neighbor Esther Soto, 53, described 3-year-old Rayshawn Gist as a lovable boy.

“He’ll come and give you a hug, a kiss,” Soto said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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