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Girl, 12, who 'made everybody smile' dead in Back of the Yards fire

A 12-year-old girl found dead after a fire Friday night in Back of the Yards caused by “careless use of smoking materials” was a cheerful kid who “made everybody smile,” friends and neighbors said Saturday.

Tatianna Joseph had just started seventh grade at Dewey School of Excellence.

Authorities said her body was found near a closet in the attic of a home in the 5000 block of South Carpenter after a fire that began around 10 p.m. Friday, sending flames through the roof.

A Teddy bear sits outside the Back of the Yards home where a 12-year-old died in a fire Friday night. Tina Sfondeles / Sun-Times

Teenagers were in the attic at the time of the fire, and four of them jumped from the front window when the fire spread, according to Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.

Langford said smoking materials ignited clothing stored in the back of the building. The fire shot up the back steps to the roof, he said.

A 16-year-old boy who jumped from the attic’s front window was taken in serious condition to Stroger Hospital. Three others were taken to Holy Cross Hospital.

Tatianna died of smoke inhalation and burns, an autopsy Saturday found.

Friends and neighbors gathered outside the home Saturday, finding it hard to believe she was gone.

“Tatianna was at my house every day,” said Marquita Edmonds, 27, a neighbor. “Tatianna was a good kid. She was goofy. She had us laughing yesterday. We were just joking with her yesterday.

“She was always laughing,” Edmonds said. “She was never in a bad mood when she came around. She made everybody smile. She just had such a good personality and was a good kid.”

Romel Roberts, 12, played with Tatianna all the time

“Yesterday, we were playing with each other,” Romel said. “We would play fight. We would always play with each other, laugh at each other. I can’t understand how she’s gone.”

Prentice Williamson, who lives next door, said he got a call from his wife Friday night telling him firefighters had come and told them to evacuate. He rushed home to make sure his wife and their 6-year-old son were OK.

Williamson said his son frequently plays with Tatianna’s little brother.

“We were standing out here when they were trying to get the blaze out,” he said. “It was raging for awhile even after the people that survived got out. I feel lucky that the firefighters came and were expeditious in getting people out of the apartments. But it’s very tragic that it had to happen to her.”

Williamson said he was shocked to find out smoking caused the fire. “That’s kind of hard to even take in,” he said. “It’s real sad.”

Firefighters knocked on doors up and down the block Saturday, passing out smoke detectors.

A 12-year-old girl was found dead after a fire at a home in Back of the Yards late Friday. | Network Video Productions