Identities released of children killed in fire

March 10, 2008 4:42:40 PM PDT
We are learning more about the four young lives taken by a deadly fire in the Lehigh Valley. The siblings died on Sunday when flames overtook a home on Mechanic Street in Bethlehem. As investigators continue to look for the reason behind the fire tragedy, the 12-year-old brother who survived is under the close watch of doctors. He is being treated at Lehigh Valley Hospital.

Fire officials in Bethlehem say this blaze will go down in infamy. Bethlehem Fire Commissioner George Barkanic tols reporters, "The fire situation wasn't anything out of the ordinary. But the loss of life is the second greatest we've ever had in the city of Bethlehem."

Four children, all brothers and sisters, were killed while sleeping in their 2nd floor bedrooms. They include 13-year-old Jonathan Echevarria, his 11-year-old brother Anthony, 6-year-old sister Jai-Lynn and sister Nyasia Mari who would've celebrated her 8th birthday today. The fifth sibling, 12-year-old Manuel, survived by jumping from a second floor window. He is now listed in critical but stable condition.

Emergency crews arrived to find Manuel on the street being cradled by his mother Jozlyn Vargas. Jozlyn was the only one who escaped unharmed after falling asleep on a couch on the first floor the night before.

The family's minister, serving as a spokesperson, says people have come from all across the region to comfort Jozlyn during a time of unspeakable grief.

"We are not just family, but friends become extended family. And the mother as well as the grandmothers have received a lot of support and prayer from all of those who know them," said Reverand Marilyn Hartman.

Gladys Cruz is a neighbor whose children played with Jozlyn Vargas's kids. She tells Action News, "As a mother I feel terrible. As a neighbor I'm devastated by the loss. And as a person whose children played with her children, I feel like it happened to me."

Only one fire in the history of Bethlehem was more deadly. That's when the Hotel Bethlehem went up nearly twenty years ago. 5 people were killed.

Fire officials are unsure how it started, but it has not been deemed suspicious. In the meantime a fund has been set up by Jozlyn Vargas' church to help pay for the burial of her four children.