HOUSTON—Three children were killed and four were injured Thursday in a fire at a west Houston day care center, according to the Houston Fire Department.
Firefighters used thermal cameras to rescue a total of seven children from the burning building at Crest Park and Waypark.
The victims were rushed to area hospitals, but three did not survive. Some were being treated at Memorial Hermann Hospital for serious burns, according to an HFD assistant chief.
The Harris County Medical Examiner identified two of the deceased children as Elizabeth Kajoh and Kendall Stradford. Both little girls were 20 months old.
All of the children were between 18 months old and 3 years old and two were siblings, according to HFD’s Rick Flanagan.
A fire department chaplain helped break the news to the parents once the victims were identified.
Neighbor Michael McAndrews, 50, said the center operator Jessica Tata was outside the center during the fire yelling frantically, "Save my babies. Save my babies. Pray for them. That’s the only hope they have now."
McAndrews said Tata told him that she had gone to the bathroom and returned to find the kitchen on fire.
Another neighbor, Sandy Sawyer, said she saw firefighters rushing children to ambulances.
"I saw them running down the street holding babies, running, because there wasn’t enough room for the emergency vehicles to get through, she said.
Sawyer said when Tata was outside she thought there were still two children in the residence.
"She thought two of them crawled out of their cribs and didn’t know where they were," Sawyer said.
A few hours after the fire, Tata was taken to a hospital. Firefighters at the scene weren’t saying why she was whisked away on a stretcher.
Tata’s pastor says she was very active in her church and even offered to take care of other people’s kids for free.
"She’s very compassionate and she loves children. And she was at a local church that that’s all she did was keep children in the nursery," said Pastor Vera Jones Thompkins.
The scene was very traumatic for firefighters and EMS crews, according to an HFD assistant chief. He said a staff psychologist met with emergency crews at the scene after the fire was brought under control.
"This is a very sad moment for the Houston Fire Department and this community," said Flanagan.
Neighbors were also stunned by the deadly fire.
"I’m a mom. It’s very shocking. It’s very upsetting," said Jennifer Williams, who lives nearby. "It’s hard to hear."
"It’s sad knowing that those babies died in there," said Greta McAndrews. "There’s some healing that has to be done in this neighborhood."
The cause of the blaze is under investigation.
Note: Reporter Courtney Zubowski and The Associated Press contributed to this report.