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4-year-old girl dies in Gage Park fire: ‘She was a little princess’

J’Marie Hernandez was found unresponsive in the first floor bedroom where the fire apparently started, officials said.

J’Marie Hernandez was in a back room of a home in the 5700 block of South Washtenaw Avenue when a fire broke out. After firefighters got her out of the home, she was taken to Holy Cross Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
J’Marie Hernandez was in a back room of a home in the 5700 block of South Washtenaw Avenue when a fire broke out. After firefighters got her out of the home, she was taken to Holy Cross Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Provided

Family members were left picking up the pieces after a horrific fire at a Gage Park home that claimed the life of a 4-year-old girl Wednesday morning.

J’Marie Hernandez was asleep alone in a room at the back of the house when the fire broke out shortly after 4 a.m., family members on the scene recalled. The flames engulfed the room, trapping J’Marie and burning her aunt’s arm as she tried pull the girl out.

Chicago Fire Department Deputy District Chief Walter Schroeder said firefighters arrived around 4:20 a.m. on the 5700 block of South Washtenaw Avenue. Family members told them the child was trapped inside.

Firefighters pulled her out and tried to resuscitate her, Schroeder said. She then was rushed to Holy Cross Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office has not released details of J’Marie’s death.

Edgar Garcia talks to reporters about the death of his niece, 4-year-old J’Marie Hernandez, who died after an early-morning fire at a home in the 5700 block of South Washtenaw Avenue in Gage Park.
Edgar Garcia talks to reporters about the death of his niece, 4-year-old J’Marie Hernandez, who died after an early-morning fire at a home in the 5700 block of South Washtenaw Avenue in Gage Park.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“It was a girl’s night out, all the cousins were just sleeping over and having fun,” said Edgar Garcia, the girl’s uncle. “My sister has five girls and she was with them watching movies and playing games.”

J’Marie had initially fallen asleep on the living room couch but was moved to the rear bedroom so she could be comfortable. Her parents declined to speak with the media and are struggling to deal with losing their only daughter, Garcia said.

“She was a happy child who loved to sing and watch Disney movies, like ‘Coco,’” Garcia said. “She was a little princess that loved music and doing those TikTok dances.”

J’Marie’s grandfather owns the single-family home, Garcia said, but hasn’t been home for several weeks as he tries to recover from COVID-19.

“He’s devastated. No grandparent wants to bury their grandchildren,” Garcia said. “We really don’t know how we should deal with this.”

Contributing: Luke Wilusz, Jermaine Nolen

Fire Commissioner Richard C. Ford II speaks to the media about a house fire in the 5700 block of South Washtenaw Avenue in Gage Park that claimed the life of 4-year-old J’Marie Hernandez.
Fire Commissioner Richard C. Ford II speaks to the media Wednesday about an early-morning house fire in the 5700 block of South Washtenaw Avenue in Gage Park that claimed the life of 4-year-old J’Marie Hernandez.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Schroeder said an investigation into the cause of the fire continues, but preliminary reports suggest no foul play. The building had fire and smoke detectors, Schroeder said, but for some reason they weren’t functioning.

Later Wednesday morning, the fire department walked the block and knocked on doors to give out fire and smoke detectors.

“I heard a lot of screaming and hollering and it woke me up out of my sleep – I thought people were just arguing,” said Claude Webster, who lives several houses down. “I wanted to go down there but if it was an argument, I didn’t want to involve myself.”

Webster said the screams grew louder at which point he went outside to see what was going on.

Chicago Fire Department officials on Wednesday were at the scene of a house fire in the 5700 block of South Washtenaw Avenue in Gage Park where a 4-year-old girl died.
Chicago Fire Department officials on Wednesday were at the scene of a house fire in the 5700 block of South Washtenaw Avenue in Gage Park where a 4-year-old girl died.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“I started seeing a people running while calling someone on their phones without wearing any shoes or a shirt,” Webster said. “Then I saw the smoke coming from the home.”

Moments later firefighters arrived.

“I feel so bad, I wish I would’ve come out sooner and went out to help but I just didn’t know what was going on,” Webster said shaking his head and looking at the ground.

Nine other people were also in the home, but no one else was injured, police said. The residents went to stay with other relatives because the home was uninhabitable after the fire.

Chicago Fire Department officials hand out smoke detectors to neighbors on the 5700 block of South Washtenaw Avenue in Gage Park, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020.
Chicago Fire Department officials hand out smoke detectors on the 5700 block of South Washtenaw Avenue in Gage Park Wednesday, after a girl died in a fire on the block. There were no working smoke detectors in the home where the fire occurred, fire officials said.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.