JACKSON, Miss. – Linda Simmons Henderson walked around the burned-out apartment building and shook her head.
"They said it was something to do with the stove," the 54-year-old Mississippi woman said Saturday evening. "They said it was an accident. I just know my babies are gone, all five of them."
Henderson's daughter and four young grandchildren, ages 2 to 7, had died hours earlier when an early morning fire swept-through their second-story Jackson apartment early Saturday.
Family members identified the victims as 28-year-old Dominique Henderson; her daughter Akyerria, 7; and her three sons Bryceston, 4, Cylor, 3, and Ethan, 2.
Chief Fire Investigator Greg Travis said the fire broke out shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday. Investigators believe the fire may have started in the kitchen, but the cause is still under investigation.
Neighbors recalled desperate efforts to save the family that were frustrated by smoke and flames.
Travis said the mother and two of the children were found dead in a bedroom; two other children were pulled from the building but died after they were taken to a hospital.
"It was an upstairs apartment, and firefighters found heavy smoke and flames coming from the apartment when they arrived," he said. "The entire roof of the apartment was engulfed in flames."
As evening fell Saturday, Linda Henderson talked to friends and family as she thought about those she had lost.
She told an Associated Press reporter about how much joy they had brought to her life.
"I get tickled every time I think about the kids; in their own special way they were all unique," Henderson said. She said her loved ones' deaths still had not sunk in.
"Akyerria," she said, "loved to sing and dance. Bryceston was the quiet one. He had a little speech problem, but he was really coming around lately. Cylor, he made you laugh. He did all kinds of little crazy things. He had this saying he said all the time. 'It's over with.' He was the smart one. Ethan was the baby; he was our little man."
She said her daughter, whom everyone called "Niqui," was "the backbone of this family."
"She was the funny one," Linda Henderson said.
Yellow police tape was wrapped around the burned-out shell of the red-brick, two-story apartment building with white siding. A pink bed sheet or curtain hung from a window.
Henderson said the two youngest children were still alive when they were pulled from a second-story window.
"When we got to the hospital, they took us to what they call the quiet room. I just dropped to the floor because I knew what that meant," she said.
A red bouquet, put there by a firefighter, was placed at a corner of the burned-out building.
As Henderson, who has two other children and four other grandchildren, spoke Saturday evening, other families who lived in the apartment building carried out clothes and other personal belongings. The building was a wreck and smelled strongly of smoke.
The apartment complex, occupied by eight families, was damaged heavily by the fire, Travis said.
Linda Henderson said her daughter worked as a hairdresser and was in her last year of study to become a medical assistant.
A 16-year-old witness, Ijuan Wilson, said he was hanging out with buddies at a nearby building at about midnight when someone screamed that there was a fire.
He described a chaotic scene in which a woman in an apartment near the Hendersons' started dropping children out of a second-story window and then jumped out herself to escape the flames. He said a friend and he kicked in the door of the Hendersons' apartment but smoke and flames poured out, forcing them back.
"I didn't hear or see no one," he said. "All I saw was smoke and fire."
Wilson said that another neighbor saw the youngest children, the two who died in the hospital, banging on a second-story window trying to get help. A neighbor climbed onto an electrical meter box and broke out the window to try to save the boys, but he was overcome by smoke and fell to the ground.
"It affected me to see all this," Wilson said. "Knowing all those babies died in one fire and their mother too."
On Saturday evening, Marilyn Minter, a first-grade teacher who had taught Akyerria, was on the scene to help. She said Akyerria had just finished her first day of second grade at Watkins Elementary School on Friday.
She said Akyerria was a caring child with big dimples and a great smile.
"She was a caring student. Quiet and very concerned about others," Minter said. "She was just one of those students that would light up everyday. She was a shining star. She was so excited about starting second grade."
Associated Press writer Cain Burdeau reported from New Orleans.
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