(CBSNEWS) – An Army soldier who was visiting New York City for the holidays was among the 12 victims in the deadly Bronx blaze, his father told CBS New York. Kwabena Mensah said his son, Emmanuel, spent his final moments trying to rescue other people in the building.
“That’s what I think, because it was in his nature,” the elder Mensah said. “He wanted to help people out.”
The 28-year-old was in for the holidays – his first trip home since joining the Army a year ago. Kwabena Mensah was on the scene early Friday morning, looking for any signs of his son after checking area hospitals.
“I thought maybe he was coming back,” he said. “Unfortunately, it turns out the other way.”
Emmanuel Mensah’s roommate was the last to see him. She made it out with her four children and husband but lost Mensah in the mix.
“Tried to call and phone everywhere, my husband went to hospital,” she told CBS New York.
Kwaben Mensah took comfort knowing his son lived and died a hero.
“God is in control, I have no control. God is in control,” he said.
The four-alarm blaze that broke out late Thursday is New York City’s deadliest fire in 25 years, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Four children, including a 1-year-old baby, are among the 12 killed.
The fire was started by a 3-and-a-half-year-old boy who was playing with burners on a kitchen stove located in a first-floor apartment, officials said.
“The mother was not aware of it, was alerted by the young man screaming,” said Daniel Nigro, commissioner for the New York City Fire Department. “She exited her apartment with her 2-year-old, and 3-year-old and left the door open.”
As smoke engulfed the building on Prospect Avenue just before 7 p.m. Thursday, family after family desperately ran out, barefoot and freezing, to try to get to safety.
“When I wake up, all I see is the flames going up, kids are on the fire escape,” said neighbor Rafael Gonzalez. “It was one apartment and then it escalated to two apartments. It just kept going next and up — it escalated.”
As firefighters scrambled to save tenants, the Red Cross arrived on scene to wrap residents in blankets and provide buses for shelter as temperatures lingered in the teens with the wind chill below zero.