A New York town Wednesday was grieving the death of an 8-year-old boy who's credited with saving the lives of six people in a roaring trailer fire, only to lose his own when he went back in to try to rescue his disabled uncle.
"I've cried so much. I've cried so much it just doesn't seem real," said Crystal Vrooman, the mom of Tyler Doohan, who died Monday morning after the trailer where he was staying overnight went up in flames.
"It's just so hard," Vrooman told NBC station WHEC of Rochester on Wednesday. "I'm never going to see him again."
Tyler, a fourth-grader at East Rochester Elementary School, didn't have class on Monday — a holiday — so he was sleeping over with several other people at his grandfather's trailer in Penfield, a suburb of Rochester.
The trailer caught fire about 4:45 a.m. ET, probably because of an electrical problem, the Penfield Fire Company said.
Tyler went through the trailer and was able to wake six people — including two other kids, ages 4 and 6 — who all made it out alive, relatives and fire investigators said.
But then Tyler went back in to try to help his uncle Steven Smith, who used a wheelchair because he'd lost part of a leg.
They didn't make it out.
The bodies of Tyler, Smith, 54, and Tyler's grandfather Louis Beach, 57, were found in the rubble of the trailer. Fire investigators said Tyler was found just a few feet from Smith's bed.
"He heard my dad screaming for help, 'What is going on? What is going on?'" Tyler's mom told WHEC.
"He ran back in there and tried to get him. My sister, I guess, saw him in there [and] tried to grab Tyler's hand and went to open the window," she said. "By the time she turned around, Tyler was gone. He was over with my dad."
Fire Chief Chris Ebmeyer said the casualties would have been much worse had Tyler not reacted so quickly.
"He saved those other six people," Ebmeyer told the Democrat & Chronicle newspaper of Rochester.
"That's the type of young man he was, and in my heart and the heart of East Rochester, he's a true hero," said Richard Stutzman, interim superintendent of the East Rochester School District.
"I just got an email from one of our staff members who, when they heard Tyler had gone back in or continued to help his grandfather get out of the burning building, they were not surprised at all," Stutzman told WHEC.
The school district sent a letter to all families saying Tyler "bravely and selflessly" gave his own life "to save the lives of six others — and he is truly a hero."
Vrooman said she'd always made it a point to teach her son to be brave.
"If anybody ever picked on him, he would come home and cry about it, and I would tell him, 'It's all right — they're just jealous of you,'" she told WHEC. "He just wanted friends. He would never fight back.
"Today, he's my little hero," she said.
By Wednesday evening, almost 1,000 people had contributed to a fund to pay for Tyler's funeral, many of whom left heartfelt messages.
"Tyler — you are a hero in every sense," one wrote. "May your selfish act of true love be inspirational for all, and may it and the wonderful way you lived your way too short life provide some solace to your family at this profound time of sadness."
"I am a mother of 3 and can only imagine your grief. This story is one of bravery, selflessness, and sacrifice. I will share this with my boys tonight (ages 7 and 10) and we will pray together for Tyler and your family."