via FOX 11 Online:
As dusk fell along Western Avenue Wednesday night, the light from the line of television cameras shone bright on the memorials of balloons, flowers and stuffed animals outside the Maki family’s gray, two-story home.
The lights – and attention – provided a stark contrast to the dark tragedy that started nearly 24 hours before.
“I think I got a call, it was around 11:30,” recalled Ryan Passini. “(My wife and I) were sleeping and it was my mother-in-law that called us. She said there was a fire.”
A fire at the modest home of Passini’s brother-in-law. A fire that left Passini’s nephew and niece dead.
“The 11-year-old child woke up the 9-year-old by yelling ‘fire, fire’ and told the person to get out,” said Sheboygan Falls Public Safety Director Steven Riffel at a press conference Wednesday morning. “The (9-year-old) ran out. Ran down the stairs, was running out of the house, assumed and believed that the other people in the house were behind her. Then (the 11-year-old) went back in and that’s what happened.”
The 11-year-old, identified by Passini as Natalie Martin, didn’t come back out.
“Firefighters were then able to locate three children, including the 11-year-old, in upstairs rooms,” said Riffel.
Officials received a call for a fire at around 9 p.m. Tuesday. Family members say Natalie Martin, 11, and Carter Maki, 7, died as a result of the fire. Officials said 9-year-old Jenna Martin – the one who escaped – went to a neighbor’s home and called 911 after Natalie got her out of the home. Police say a fourth child, 10-year-old Benjamin Martin, is at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa in critical condition.
Earlier Wednesday, police had said that three children died, but have since revised that number.
Riffel says smoke alarms were working and the cause of the fire is being investigated. Riffel says the parents, Chris, 29, and Kristi Maki, 30, were not home at the time. Passini told FOX 11 the parents were at a bible study when the fire occurred.
“(Natalie) ran in there and risked her life where you or I might not have done the same,” said an emotional Passini Wednesday night at his home in nearby Plymouth. “So what does that say for maturity and for who she is as a person and her love for her family?”
Passini says the family’s emotions have been like a roller coaster over the last 24 hours.
“You start – I don’t want to say ‘feeling better’ because you’re not going to feel better, but – almost coming to grips with the situation, realizing what’s going on and then you crash again.”
“It’s just a tragedy,” said neighbor Terry Hoffman, who says he would often see the children playing with other kids in the neighborhood. “I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for the other little kids that play with them. How do you explain that to your children?”
Sheboygan Falls School District says it has counselors in place for students who might need help coping with the loss.
District Administrator Jean Born said in an emailed statement to FOX 11: “As a district we are saddened by this loss. Our thoughts are with the family. The district will continue to work to support our students, staff and the family.”
As fire investigators combed the scene Wednesday morning and workers boarded up broken windows, Howards Grove firefighter Cody Starr laid two bouquets of flowers in front of the home. Starr wasn’t working the night of the fire, but listened to the chatter over the radio, hoping to hear good news.
“It’s very hard for them and I know a lot of the first responders and firefighters that showed up to the call and I know that they did, 100-percent, everything that they could to do,” said Starr. “But I also know that they’re going to take this very hard because they feel that if they could have been faster, if they could have done something quicker.”
“Flowers don’t really, to anyone, probably don’t mean much,” Starr added. “But to me, just to put something down, let people know that people care in this area.”
Support for the family of six that has already lost enough. But what has been uplifting during this time, Passini says, is the amount of support that has been shown throughout the Lakeshore, although “it doesn’t take the pain away. You just have to figure out how to keep going.”
If you wish to help the family they have a GO Fund Me account set up: Maki Family-Falls Fire (official)
This fire not only took their home and possessions, but the most important thing to a parent, two of their children. Natalie (11) and Carter (7). Ben (10) is currently fighting for his life. Jenna (9) was able to make it out.
The amount of funds needed in this situation is astronomical when you consider not only trying to rebuild a home but a family. Every little bit is so helpful in taking care of everything from funeral costs to normal day to day living.
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