A 29-year-old firefighter lost three children early Sunday morning when a fire broke out at an overnight daycare in Pennsylvania as he responded to another call just blocks away, PEOPLE confirms.
Luther Jones, of the Lawrence Park Volunteer Fire Department, was responding to an automatic fire alarm when the blaze started at Harris Family Day Care in Erie, a spokesperson for the fire department tells PEOPLE. The Erie Fire Department responded to the daycare incident, and it wasn’t until hours later that he received the tragic news that three of his children had died in the fire.
“I can’t imagine what that poor young man is going through,” Lawrence Park Fire Chief Joe Crotty tells PEOPLE. “The poor kid. We’re doing everything we can. We all went over as a fire department and brought him food and sat down and talked with Luther.”
The Erie Fire Department said firefighters were called to the 1200 block of West 11th Street just after 1 a.m. following reports of a structure fire with multiple occupants trapped inside. Five children died as a result of the blaze and four were siblings, with Jones fathering three of them, a spokesperson for the Erie Fire Department tells PEOPLE.
“Two teens escaped through the second-story window,” the spokesperson says, noting that they suffered injuries from broken glass. “The next-door neighbor suffered some minor burns because she tried to enter the building and could not do it.”
Shevona Overton told CBS affiliate told WSEE that the four siblings were her children, identifying them as La’Myhia Jones, 8; Luther Jones Jr., 6; Ava Jones, 4; and 9-month-old Jaydan Augustyniak.
“I’m just so hurt my babies are gone,” Overton told WSEE. “I love them dearly. I just hurt inside knowing that my kids were fighting and hurting in that fire. Every minute, I feel the same pain.”
The owner of the facility, Elaine Harris, suffered burns while trying to escape the building and was then injured in a car crash after leaving the location, the spokesperson tells PEOPLE. She remained hospitalized on Monday, and is unable speak as a result of her injuries, another Lawrence Park fire official tells PEOPLE.
“There were a number of extension cords underneath a carpet and underneath the couch where the fire originated, so we’re leaning toward over-loaded extension cords,” the spokesperson says, adding that an electrical engineer is working to confirm the cause. “There was only one smoke detector and that was in the attic. By the time the smoke got to the smoke detector in the attic, it was too late.”
The Erie City Police Department did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment regarding the cause of the fire.
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According to its website, Harris Family Day Care is a 24-hour childcare service facility that teaches “kids age-appropriate skills.” Erie Chief Fire Inspector John Widomski told the Erie Times-News that flames were bursting out of every window of the house’s first floor when firefighters arrived. The Erie fire spokesperson tells PEOPLE the facility has two stories, a basement and an attic.
Lawrence Park fire officials have set up a fund for Jones, who has five other children. Crotty says Jones has been with the department for about a year.
“He’s holding up as best as possible, the best anyone can expect in these horrific circumstances,” Crotty says. “It’s hard to wrap your head around, losing one child let alone three children. He’s one of us and we’re doing our best to make sure we take care of him.”