"My son's in there!': Mother's heartbreaking cries as son, 7, is killed in suspected gang arson attack
54-year-old John Urhie paid an emotional tribute to his dead son while sharing pictures of his 'shy' child dressed as a fireman.
A 7-year-old boy died in a tragic incident after a "suspicious" fire burnt down his home in the dead of the night. The child, Joel Urhie, was found dead inside his home in Deptford, south-east London after the fire took out both the floors at around 3:30 a.m.
A murder investigation has now been launched as the authorities are on the lookout for a suspected arsonist after a neighbor said that a fight happened outside the home just hours before the fire broke out, the Daily Mail reported.
Neighbors of the family described how the boy's blood-soaked mother, Sophie, had to break a window on the first floor before jumping down to safety with her 19-year-old daughter Sarah. While she was being comforted by horrified onlookers, she started screaming "my son's in there!" as what has been described as a "wall of flames" poured out through the front door. Meanwhile, Sarah kept crying and calling out her brother's name "over and over."
Joel's elder brother Sam, 21, even tried to run into the burning home to save his brother after he got to the scene with two of his friends in a car but was stopped by the police.
Speaking to the media outside the burnt husk of his home today, 54-year-old John Urhie, paid an emotional tribute to his dead son while sharing pictures of his "shy" child dressed as a fireman. He said: "He played with everyone around here. He was a very nice looking boy. It's terrible; the pain we cannot forget." He told the press that his wife and two remaining children are recovering at the Lewisham Hospital at the moment. The devastated father added: "They just called me about 4 a.m. this morning and they said there was a fire. When I came, the first thing I saw was my daughter inside the ambulance. They said, "Joel’s dead," and there’s nothing I can do about it."
The area around the three-bedroom home, built in the 1980s, has been cordoned off as detectives and forensics officers are trying to find any clues in the home for what may have started the blaze. One 15-year-old witness, who had known the Urhie's for many years now, said that he heard the mother screaming "oh my boy, oh my boy." Sophie works as a nurse at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.
The teen said: "I woke up at about 3 a.m. because I heard a woman screaming. Then I heard her sister, she just kept screaming his name, Joel, over, and over." His mother then said: "I’ve known the family for years. We used to live in Surrey Quays together. Then we were moved here in 2002. The lady is very nice and so are the children. She had three children, two boys, and one girl. Joel was the youngest. Their dad left them, I’m not sure when. This is terrible if you started to cry you wouldn’t stop. The family has gone through a lot, it’s too much."
Detective Superintendent Jane Corrigan said that the authorities still need to identify suspects for the crime. Asking the public for information, she said: "An innocent seven-year-old boy has lost his life in what should have been the safest place for him, his home. We’re treating this as a murder investigation. We believe that the fire was started deliberately, but at this stage, I am unable to go into any further detail. We have no idea what the motive for this attack was."
Eyewitnesses to the incident described how the tragedy unfolded in the night with the area around the house was lit up by the "enormous" flames. 56-year-old Grace Gbenedio, a close family friend, rushed out of her home across the street the moment she saw the flames engulfing the house. She said: "I started asking, 'Where is your son?' Sophie was screaming 'my son, my son.' My daughter saw Sarah jump. Nobody could come through the hallway. The fire was too intense."
"Sarah was crying 'my brother is in there.' Samuel, her son, arrived with two of his friends in a car. We had called him to come. They wouldn’t let him into the house. He said all he wanted to do was get in the house, but the police stopped him. So we brought him to the hospital. He wasn’t saying anything in the car except 'Why? Why? Why?' When we were at the hospital he said 'Oh, why not me? It could have been me. Why not me to die?'"
Another family friend said that Sophie was a devoted mother to the 7-year-old boy, who was autistic and a special needs student at the local primary school. 21-year-old Andre Pavanello, the next-door neighbor, said: "There was really, really loud screaming. As I came out here, I heard screaming, and the front of the window smashed. I think they had to smash the window to get out and they had to jump out because the fire was getting too big. I think that he was trapped inside the room because the flames were way too big to start with."
23-year-old Kayla McClellan, who also lives next door to the burnt home, said: "I just woke up to screaming. We opened the door, a wall of fire came through the front, and we immediately closed it and went out through the back." 36-year-old Mcklushia Myles said that the child was "like a son" to him. He said: "I am absolutely devastated. He was like a son to me. I saw him every day. My son is the same age, they were best friends. He’s like family. He was always so happy. I slept through it. I didn’t even know it happened until the neighbors came knocking on the door. It’s unbelievable to know that he’s gone. My head is all over the place. I’m trying to calm down."
Myles also said that the eldest son, Samuel, had been in trouble with the law "once or twice" in the past over knife crimes. The young man is said to have stayed in the family home in Deptford recently for a brief spell, but he was not living in the house at the time of the attack. The London Fire Brigade said that six fire engines and about 35 firefighters had been called to the scene of the fire at around 3:25 a.m.
Detective Superintendent Corrigan said: "We continue to work with our London Fire Brigade partners to establish the circumstances around this tragic death. Road closures and a crime scene remain in place at this time, and we appreciate the cooperation of local residents in the surrounding area. Our thoughts are with the child’s family, and specialist officers are providing them with support and will be keeping them informed as the investigation progresses. At this early stage there are a number of possible lines of inquiry, however, officers retain an open mind with regard to motive. I appeal to anyone who has information concerning this fire to contact police without delay."
A spokesperson for the London Fire Brigade said in a statement: "Firefighters arrived to find a very severe fire inside the house. The ground floor was badly damaged by the blaze, as well as the whole of the first floor and the stairs from the ground to the first floor. Two women jumped from first-floor level shortly before the first firefighters arrived at the scene. They were both treated at the scene. Sadly, a seven-year-old boy was found deceased by firefighters inside the property. The Brigade was called at 3.25am and the fire was brought under control by 4.48am. Fire crews from Dockhead, Greenwich, New Cross, and Lewisham fire stations attended the incident."