Man with autism dies in East Oak Lane house fire

Crews battle a fire in the East Oak Lane section of Philadelphia on April 2, 2013.
April 3, 2013 2:59:01 PM PDT
Officials say a 22-year-old man with autism died in a blaze at a house in the city's East Oak Lane section.

The fire broke out around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday along the 6600 block of North 12th Street.

Jean Ladoucer came back late Wednesday morning to look at what was left of his home. Flames engulfed the three-story home with five people inside, including a young man with autism.

Four people managed to get out of the house, but 24-year-old Andre Anderson perished in the blaze.

"My wife tried, you know, to get him out, and then he panicked when he heard, you know, the fire alarm. He panicked and then he pulled away from my wife and went straight back to the room," explained Ladoucer.

The Ladoucers considered Andre to be a part of the family. Five years ago they took him in and cared for the autistic man like he was their own.

"It's hard. I'm telling you, it is hard. When nobody else wanted him, we opened up our house to him. It wasn't easy but he was comfortable with us."

In the chaotic moments around 9:30 last night, neighbors describe seeing Gherta Ladoucer's desperate attempts to save Andre.

"We could hear her screams from... I was on this side across the street. She was screaming for somebody to go in. But it was just... there was no chance," said one neighbor.

It was too dangerous for fire crews to enter. Fire officials say they found Andre in a second floor bedroom that had partially collapsed.

Family members say Gherta and her sister were transported to the hospital having suffered smoke inhalation, but are expected to recover.

Family members who did not want to go on camera describe this house as a family gathering spot for fun, holidays and bible study. They also say the Ladoucers devoted their life to helping children in need. They fostered several kids. They also have children of their own.

Fire officials are still working to figure out what may have sparked the blaze.

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