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November 28, 2014

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Stunned by tragic fire, neighbors rally around grieving family

Image

Steve Marcus

An undated photo provided by family friend Craig Freudlich shows Ella Flores and Cruz Flores, right. The children died in an early morning fire at the home near Ann Road and Durango Drive Thursday, June 19, 2014. The older brother Ryan, left, was not at the home.

Fire Kills Two Children

Stuffed bears with the names of Ella and Cruz Flores are posted on a fence after an early morning fire at the home near Ann Road and Durango Drive Thursday, June 19, 2014. The children, ages 2 and 4-years-old, died in the fire. Launch slideshow »

Two children dead in blaze

On the days when her mother could not be home to pick up her little brother from school, Maddie, 16, would do it for her.

While walking down their quiet stretch of North Riley Street to the school, she would often see two little children, a girl and a boy, playing happily outside their house.

She remembers they were fond of racing remote-controlled cars and used to drive them all over their street. The boy, Cruz, 4, seemed to love anything with a motor in it. The girl, Ella, 2, was always right there with him.

What made them stand out, said Maddie’s mom, Danielle, who didn’t give her family’s last name, was that the whole family just seemed in love with each other. They were relatively new to the neighborhood, near North Durango Drive and West Ann Road, living there for about a year.

“Every time I drive by, they always wave,” she said. “They’re always real nice.”

Whenever she drove by on her way to work or to the store, the family seemed to always be spending time together. Kids of all ages seemed to swarm the little ranch house. In many ways, she admired them.

“I get home and I’m like, ‘It’s too hot, let’s stay inside,’” Danielle said. “Then I drive by these guys and I’m like, ‘They are such a good family.’”

They made her want to spend more time with hers.

She was shocked when she awoke to the news Thursday morning of a fire in the home that she passed by so often — and that it had claimed those two children's lives.

Many residents that night, Danielle included, woke up to the sound of low-flying helicopters.

"Immediately I get up and am checking my doors, making sure I got my gun, making sure my kids are OK,” she said. She assumed it was a manhunt for a criminal, and didn’t think much of it.

The fire reportedly broke out in the children’s bedrooms. Their parents, Tony Flores and Stephanie Parriera, rushed to save them. When they couldn’t get through the door inside the house, they ran to the bedroom window outside and tried to extinguish the blaze with a garden hose.

Even the Metro Police officers who arrived first on the scene were repelled by the fire when they tried to search for the children. It took Las Vegas Fire & Rescue units who arrived shortly after to gain entry into the house. There they found Cruz and Ella, already dead.

Tony suffered third-degree burns trying to save them. Stephanie was distraught. They were both transported to University Medical Center.

On Thursday afternoon, the house sat empty. Yellow caution tape blocked off the driveway. A small memorial, mostly made up of stuffed animals bearing the name of the children, wedged itself into the iron fence in front of the house. A toy motorbike and a jungle gym sat in front of the house.

Click to enlarge photo

A memorial of stuffed animals and flowers is shown Thursday, June 19, 2014, at the home where two children died in an early-morning fire.

A few neighbors, including Danielle, Maddie, her son Mason, 15, and her daughter Emma, 2, gathered at the memorial and mulled over ways to help the family. They had never even met them.

“Doesn’t even matter,” Danielle said. “You do whatever you have to do to have their backs.”

They wanted to pitch in to remove the charred debris that was still on the front lawn, thinking the family would not want to see it when they returned. They decided against it, not wanting to offend anyone.

But soon trucks arrived and parked outside the home. A handful of friends of the family had arrived to do just that. They called for a garbage truck to remove the debris. When that failed to arrive, they took matters into their own hands. They backed a truck into the driveway and, for more than an hour, dismantled what remained of the children’s bedrooms and took it away.

Then they waited around for 8 p.m., when a candlelight vigil was to take place outside the home. It didn’t take long for people to show up.

They started trickling in an hour early, just as the sun was setting. Some came straight from work, stopping only to buy colorful bouquets of flowers, which they tearfully set at the foot of the memorial.

By 8 p.m., hundreds had arrived. Many walked from nearby homes and communities, until the streets were lined and a semi-circle of people surrounded the memorial. Candles were spread out, some into a heart shape. Two candles were placed neatly in the middle. At the front, a photo of the two children was displayed.

“I just want to tell everybody thank you for all the support,” said the father, Tony, who spoke to the gathering via phone. “I can honestly look back and say these kids had a great life.”

Cruz and Ella’s older brother, Ryan, 14, talked about how they used to play all the time.

“That RC car was the best toy he could ever have,” he said about Cruz.

“We always did stuff together,” he said, on the verge of tears. “I don’t know how it’s going to work without these two.”

A handful of family members spoke, including the children’s grandparents. Stephanie’s father, Tony, recalled memories of the children.

"Cruz always wanted to drive his truck. Ella was as sweet as the cookies he brought her. She only ever ate the frosting," he said. In recent years he made the decision to be closer to the family.

“It hurts more than anything I’ve ever felt in my life,” he said. “I don’t know how I’m gonna get through it. I don’t know what’s my next move.”

Before the vigil ended, people encouraged others to stay in touch with the family. Danielle, who had come with Maddie, sought out Ryan in the crowd, hugged him, and introduced themselves.

On the walk back home, Danielle was already coming up with a plan. She would give it a few days, and then have her kids knock on Ryan’s door.

“I’ll definitely have these guys go down and see if he wants to go play basketball,” she said.

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