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
"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.