MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minneapolis man recovering in a hospital after a fire in his rental home wept as he recounted how the blaze claimed the lives of five of his seven children.
Troy Lewis, 60, said from his hospital bed that the deepest pain came from having to make a decision no parent should have to make: choosing which children to save.
"I wanted to get all of my babies," Lewis sobbed on Saturday. "All of my babies. I wanted all my babies," he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The Minneapolis Fire Department said Sunday it was still investigating the cause of Friday's blaze. Five children aged 8 years to 19 months were killed. The two others who survived remained in critical condition Sunday, said Christine Hill, a spokeswoman for the Hennepin County Medical Center.
Lewis jumped from a second-story window after the fire broke out Friday morning. He injured his spine, but he ran back inside to save his screaming children.
He said he was devastated when he realized he wouldn't be able to save them all.
First he rescued 9-year-old Shaca, who was gasping for air. He returned for Christopher, a dimpled 8-year-old who was already a budding ladies' man, but it was too late.
"He was dead," a shaken Lewis said. "I saw him burned. I saw my baby burn," he told the newspaper.
Lewis knew 5-year-old Fannie and 3-year-old Troy were in the same room as Christopher. His heart sank as he realized they were probably dead too, so he grabbed 5-year-old Electra and pulled her to safety.
"I had a choice to make, a dead child here or . a live one," Lewis said.
He tried to save Mary, who was a few weeks shy of her seventh birthday, but she too was dead. Then he tried to go back for the baby, 19-month-old Gwendolyn, but the floor was scorching hot and he could barely breathe, the newspaper reported.
"All I can say is that they were beautiful children," Lewis told WCCO-TV, crying. "Should have never moved into that house."
Rosie Boyd, the victims' grandmother, told the newspaper that the children had already been grappling with the loss of their 31-year-old mother, Kim Davis, who died several months ago.
Fire officials said 15 people lived in the duplex.
Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel said Friday that the fire apparently started on the second floor. He said a space heater was found on that floor, but he didn't know if it was in use before the fire began.
The owner of the property, Paul Bertelson, told The Associated Press on Friday that Lewis and his family moved in about six to eight months ago.
"They were good tenants," he said, adding that the 102-year-old duplex had smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The upper unit is heated by permanent baseboard units.
Inspectors said Friday the building had no current code violations.