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For week ended January 09, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Kent Larsen

"> Florida Fire That Killed LDS Girls Ruled Accident
Daytona Beach FL News Journal 5Jan00 P2
By Jim Haug: Staff Writer

KORONA, FLORIA -- The tragic Florida home fire that killed two LDS girls and attracted sympathy and donations from throughout Florida was ruled an accident by investigators Tuesday. Authorities said that the December 16th fire was probably set by one of the four children in the home, who was playing with matches. In addition to the two children, the family lost all their possessions.

The older child that died, 11-year-old Shalem Reyes, had called 911 to report the fire and then tried to rescue her 22-month-old sister, Maryland, from an adjacent bedroom, where both most likely suffocated from smoke inhalation, according to state Fire Marshal Murray McDonald.

The girls' father, Rigoberto Reyes, says that the family is slowly recovering from the tragedy. "This is still like a dream," he said, "but I think we are truly progressing. We are taking it day by day, step by step." He expressed deep gratitude to the community for the many donations of food, clothing, and cash, as well as for their prayers.

The family was renting the house and did not have renters insurance, so they have no way of replacing the goods lost in the fire. In the weeks following the fire, strangers brought boxes of clothes, toys, stuffed animals, food, blankets and dishes to a local fire station for the family. A local real estate agency donated furniture and provided the family with a mobile home where they could live temporarily.

Investigators say that one of the children was playing with matches in a bedroom on the home's second floor and accidentally set a mattress on fire. The children tried to push the burning mattress out a window, but soon found that the mattress wouldn't fit. They then tried to push the mattress down the stairs to take it outside, but it became wedged in the staircase, trapping all five of the family members at home upstairs, according to McDonald.

He estimates that because the fire was in an older home, one without firebreaks in the walls, the upper portion of the house was fully engulfed in flames within five to seven minutes. "This one was one hell of a tragedy," McDonald said. "We should all learn from it."

12-year-old Melshizedek and his 6-year-old sister, Jhelm, were able to get out through a corner window, but Melshizedek fell while trying to climb down from the roof and dislocated a shoulder. Their mother, Mayra, suffered second- and third-degree burns while trying to save her daughters, before she fled the house. Mayra has been released from Orlando Regional Medical Center, and is recovering at the home of a fellow church member.

More than 300 people gathered at a funeral for the two children on Thursday, December 23rd at an LDS Chapel, where Rigoberto told the mourners that they shouldn't view his children's deaths as tragedies. "Nothing evil comes from God," he said. "This was meant to be so for my family."

"I have accepted that the Lord has taken her. One of my relatives said, They didn't even have to interview her. They just let her slide in.' I am so glad for that."

He also read from the classic Dr. Seuss children's story, "Green Eggs and Ham," which was Maryland's favorite, "I hope that there are libraries in heaven and I hope Dr. Seuss is allowed in those libraries. Because Maryland loved to read."

Brenda Boyd, a member of the Reyes' ward, also spoke at the funeral, honoring Shalem, who had been given her school's "Citizen of the Month" award that day, "She gave her life to try to rescue her sister," said Boyd. "A younger sister could not have asked for better. Maryland's second mother was Shalem."

Both Rigoberto and Mayra are returned missionaries. Rigoberto is a native of Honduras and a former branch president in south Florida. Mayra is a native of Cuba.

The News Journal's coverage says that monetary donations can be made to Cypress Bank, 21 Cypress Point Parkway, Palm Coast, in the name of the Reyes Family Fund Contributions Account. Checks can also be made out to the Church of Latter Day Saints and sent to Bishop Rick Singler, 491 Leeway Trail, Ormond Beach, 32174.


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