A teenager on a Father’s Day visit to Newark to honor his deceased dad died, along with his mother and four others, when a fast-moving fire ripped through a three-story home early Sunday, authorities and the boy’s grandmother said.
The blaze broke out at the single-family residence about 4 a.m. and soon spread to another home, the Essex County Prosecutor’s office said. Both structures were destroyed.
Iris Sydney, of neighboring Irvington, stood outside the burned-out residence later Sunday, clutching a framed studio portrait of her grandson and his mother. They were supposed to meet her for a Father’s Day service at the Solid Rock church, where his father attended services before he died two years ago in a bicycle accident in Newark, she told The Associated Press. But they never showed up.
When Sydney returned home from church, a deputy sheriff was standing at her door and gave her the sad news: 15-year-old Stephan Sydney and his mother, Noreen “Michelle” Johnson, were killed in the fire, along with four others.
Sydney, 77, said the boy and his mother were visiting from Crawford, Ga., and were staying with Johnson’s relatives at the house, now black and charred, when the fire broke out. The boy had gotten a haircut for church.
“I can’t believe this,” she said. “But I’m telling you: I buried my husband. ... I bury my son, and now this is my grandchild. I feel it. I feel it in my heart. ... This is a sad day for the Sydney family. It is.”
Authorities have not determined the cause of the fire but say it doesn’t appear to be suspicious, according to Thomas Fennelly, chief assistant prosecutor. Everyone in the second home managed to escape safely, he said.
All that remained of the home Sunday afternoon was the blackened frame, with piles of twisted furniture and belongings spilling out of the empty sills that once held windows. The white fence around the front of the property was still intact.
A small storefront church called Tree of Life Ministries, on one side of the home where the six died, appeared undamaged. Neighbors gathered outside the home — many in their Sunday church clothes — shaking their heads at the loss of so many lives.