Five young children – all under the age of 10 – were killed in a fire early Friday morning in an apartment where they had been staying with their mother and grandparents since their last home burned down just five months ago.
The blaze broke out at the two-story building in East St. Louis, Illinois, United States around 3 am after the children’s mom, Sabrina Dunigan, left home to drive someone to work.
Their mother returned to discover the home engulfed in flames, authorities said.
Dunigan, rushed into the house when she returned in an unsuccessful attempt to save her children.
Five crews of firefighters reportedly rushed into the building, finding two children dead and three unconscious on the floor.
Two of the children passed away as they were rushed out of the building, and the fifth tragically passed on the way to the hospital, Daily Mail reports.
Greg Dunigan and Vanicia Mosley, who is blind, the children’s grandparents, were also asleep in the apartment at the time.
Residents of the three other units in the apartment complex also escaped safely.
Friends, family, and neighbors gathered for a prayer vigil later that day.
“Sabrina cared for her kids. She loved those kids and we all loved those kids,” Sheila Dunigan, the mother’s aunt, told KSDK.
“People are judging my niece. Please, don’t judge her. Pray for her, that’s all I’m asking right now,” she added.
“I just want everybody to pray for my niece because this is a tragedy,” said Etta McCray, another aunt of the mother.
The Dunigans had moved into the apartment five months earlier after their last home was also destroyed in a fire.
“He was mad about another guy that I talk to. I don’t understand because he’s now talking to another woman,” she said.
“We’re just telling him he has to leave, and he said he was gonna set the house on fire.”
She added: “Yes, I’m mad. He sat down the street and waited until we left to get milk for the children. He then came back and set the house on fire like he said he was gonna do.”
Rudy McIntosh, who owns the building, said it has smoke detectors, but could not confirm that Sabrina was the room’s tenant.
“That’s what I’m trying to do now, find out who was in there,” he said.