Mom speaks of loss at vigil for three dead in East St Louis fire
Grown men cried along side women and children as a huge group of family, friends and community members came together at a candlelight vigil to pray for strength and healing and to remember their loved ones who lost their lives in a fire Sunday at a home in the 2000 block of North 43rd Street.
The people, carrying stuffed animals, balloons and candles, gathered outside of 2015 N. 43rd St., the home where Corey Burries, her daughters Janice and Kendra Williams, 4-year-old Jayden Hayden, a 1-year-old boy and 27-year-old Kendra William’s 32-year-old fiancee, Chantaz Reynolds, lived and were sleeping when a fire broke out Sunday afternoon and quickly grew very intense. Burries was able to get out along with her daughter Janice. She threw her 1-year-old grandson to safety out of the window she escaped through. Trapped inside and killed were Hayden, Kendra Williams and Reynolds.
Tears flowed and prayers were said to lift up those who are left to keep the memories of their loved ones alive. Plenty of small candles were lit and laying on the ground as the huge crowd prayed and shared memories of their loved ones.
Burries said her daughter always had a smile on her face. “The fire came so fast, my daughter, her fiancee and my grandson didn’t have time to get out.” She said she got out because the fire escape was right there by her bedroom. Asked whether she was surprised she was able to keep her wits about her with a large fire raging inside her home, Burries said she had a plan and she stuck to it.
“I always said if there was a fire here, I would go out the window to the fire escape. That’s what I did,” she said.
She said the others, who were trapped “were probably overcome by the smoke. Everyone was sleeping.”
“She had just started to get her life on track. She was going to get married in June. She was getting ready to move out. She had so many plans for her life,” Burries said. Asked how she is holding herself together amidst the tragedy, Burries said she has to be strong for her daughter and two grandsons, who are still here and who need her.
“They need me just as they did. I have to be strong,” she said.
Describing 4-year-old Jayden, she said “Everybody liked Jayden. He was a kid that people just liked. Jayden was a joy to be around. He would put you in your place. His and my daughter’s lives were cut short too soon.” She said once everyone who has been coming around, expressing condolences and keeping her mind occupied, return to their normal lives, she knows there will be some difficult days ahead. Kendra “was my heart,” she said somberly.
The pinkish red frame house burned completely. Burries lost all of her personal belongings and she said she is in need of help to pay for the funerals. She has set up a Go Fund Me page and has an account set up at First Community Credit Union in her name
Kendall Williams said his daughter was just like him. “She didn’t take nothing.” He said he last saw his daughter a month ago.
He and his daughter had some arguments, but he said she knew he loved her. And in their last phone conversation he said he told her he loved her. Then, filled with emotion, he turned to the large grieving crowd and told them that he had been trying to get his family together for six months, but “everyone kept saying they had things to do.” So, it never happened until Wednesday when plenty of his family turned out for the vigil.
He told everyone there not to wait until something like what happened to his family happens and then everyone comes together. He said maybe “you want to say you love them. You can’t tell them if they’re dead.”
Williams encouraged the crowd to patch up any petty arguments that has separated family and friends. He told them the most important part of life is “family.” “Don’t wait until something happens to get together. Make time to be with your family. My daughter and grandson are gone. Y’all didn’t get together,” he told his family. He told them whatever the reason they may not be talking to a family member “it’s petty.”
“Call them and tell them you love them,” Williams said.
Anthony Reynolds’ son was Kendra Williams’ fiancee. He said his son ‘was a good man.”
“He never got into any trouble. He had a job at Walmart,” Reynolds said. Chantez Reynolds was “happy and looking forward to his wedding,” Reynolds said.
He learned of the tragic news from relatives. He said his heart fell out of his chest.
Shaleaner Short got some in the crowd to laugh as she talked about how Kendra Harris had a bubbly personality that was infectious. She said, “I remember how she always came to my room and put on my heels and dresses and she walked out where others could see her and they’d laugh.” She said she sneaked Kendra out of the house and took her to get her first tattoo. Several people laughed aloud as they listened. Burries said, “I am still mad about that,” and she smiled.
“That was my boo. She was the selfie queen. I hate the way it happened, but it was time for them to go home,” Short said.
Local radio personalty Bob Romanik came out and gave the family a check to help them get back on their feet. He stayed for the vigil and offered comforting words, through tears, to Burries, telling her he understood her pain because he recently lost his son, Steve Romanik.
The pastors who offered up prayers to strengthen and heal the family also encouraged those who are alive to give their lives to God.
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503