TAMINA, Texas -- Tucked along the railroad in southern Montgomery County is the small town of Tamina, where everyone knows everyone. When a fire broke out at the Johnson home early Friday morning, neighbors like Shirley Grimes rushed to help.
“First thing we did, we got dressed and got over there to check to see what was going on and what we could possibly do,” she said.
As she watched the flames, Grimes said questions swirled in her head.
“Where’s the kids? Did anyone get out? What happened to the family?” she wondered.
Hours later, she and others learned the answer.
“It was devastating,” Grimes said.
That’s precisely how Shenancy Miller, who went to school with 13-year-old TJ, described the fire.
“I just can’t believe he’s already gone,” Miller cried.
TJ lost his life in the fire along with 6-year-old Kaila and 5-year-old Kyle.
“(TJ) loved superheroes. That’s all he’d ever do was talk about them, what he would do if he had a superpower. All he wanted to do was fly,” Miller said.
Grimes knew all the children from when they came to the Tamina Community Center before and after school.
“Those kids were a part of me growing up and in their life. I’m grateful to be a part of it,” she said.
Photos: 3 children die in house fire
Photos: Deadly house fire in Montgomery County
The homeowner, Bobby Johnson, Jr., and his son, Jarvis, burned themselves trying to save Johnson’s grandchildren. They only managed to save 10-year-old Adrian.
“I’m feeling sorrow, hurt and I just want to hug my pastor and his family and tell them I’m so sorry,” said Ida Gonzalez, a family friend.
Raw video: Body cam shows first officers on scene
Gonzalez knows the Mitchell children through their grandfather’s church.
“If you don’t know (Johnson), you need to know him, because when you’re down, he brings you up,” Gonzalez said.
The boys also touched classmates from Houser Elementary who left a row of teddy bears beneath the fire marshals yellow tape at the Johnson home.
“I feel water,” said Corland Atkins, a classmate. “I’m going to cry right now. It’s because I didn’t get to know him that well.”
“My son actually prayed before he put the teddy bears down and just asked God to make sure he was with them,” said Jimekia Atkins, Corland’s mom.
Curtis Gibbs, a cousin of the victims’ mother, described the children as “beautiful kids.”
“It’s bad enough when you lose one, but when you lose this many …,” he said before trailing off.
The early morning flames claimed the lives of his young cousins, who, he said, were about to have two more siblings.
“(Their mother is) having twins. She’s pregnant with twins,” Gibbs said. “I was just telling her, ‘That’s just God’s will. You take care of four of them now. You’ll be OK.’”
Now, Gibbs said, his family has to break the news to the youngest cousins.
“It’s already tough for the adults. You never know what those little minds are going through,” he said.
But he said he knew his family has the support of neighbors, including grimes Grimes.
“I’m going to miss them coming in with that high spirit, telling me how church was Sunday and how they enjoyed hearing their Poppy preach,” she said.
She added that she’s still struggling to come to grips with the fact that she won’t see them again.
“It’s going to be a big loss,” Grimes said. “They were small, but they had a big heart. They had great smiles.”
Now, she said, it’s up to the Tamina community to prove just how strong it can be, stronger than even the freight trains that run through town.
“Keep this family and the community in your prayers,” Grimes said.
A gofundme.com account has been set up to help the victims with medical and funeral expenses.