CHICAGO - Two grieving sisters want to know why their father's body was overlooked by authorities for months in a burned-out home in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood.
Chicago fire and police dog teams failed to find the body of 57-year-old Curtis Green last January after the building, located at 1140 South Francisco Avenue, caught fire. Only after the I-Team began investigating the incident, asking Chicago fire officials for answers, did they admit the department made a mistake.
According to Sherry and Tonisha Bryant, a neighbor insisted he heard someone trapped inside the building, calling for help.
"He said during the fire he heard someone screaming, 'Please help me, please help me, please help, get me outta here, please help me,'" said Sherry Bryant.
Fire officials said there no injuries in the fire. But as days went by and their father didn't answer his cell phone, the sisters said they begged to have the charred house checked again.
"I was assured by the Chicago Police Department and the Chicago Fire Department that no one was hurt. I told my sister we couldn't leave this neighborhood - we couldn't leave this neighborhood without filing a missing person's report," Sherry Bryant said.
Green was known for his hustle and his handyman skills. His family said he was also a drug addict, living without a permanent address.
"Let me tell you something, me and my sister are tax-paying citizens so, which means we provide your paycheck, so at the end of the day, we want some service," Sherry Bryant said.
They said after a month of pleading with authorities for help, cadaver dogs were sent to the scene, but the Bryants said police told them the dogs found nothing.
"He said there's a possibility your dad could be dead in there and that they sniffed him, but he said there is so much debris, it's a lot of clothes in there, we can't look through all that," Sherry Bryant recalled.
Weeks turned into months and then, on April 7, a man scavenging for wire inside the building made the gruesome discovery.
"When he was digging the debris up, that's when my father's arm fell on him," Tonisha Bryant said.
According to records from the medical examiner obtained by the I-Team, the body was found "in the back bedroom between high debris and the wall." It was "fully dressed in an advanced state of decomposition. Large debris covered the floor making it dangerously difficult to inspect."
"I was hurt, I was extremely heartbroken. You tell us you can't get your hands dirty 'cause there's too much debris. And here it is, somebody else looking for a scrap, they can find a body, but you couldn't take out the time to look for a body?" Tonisha Bryant said.
In a statement to the I-Team, Chicago fire officials admit that, "Despite multiple searches by both the fire department and the police department along with a cadaver canine, CFD now believes we missed Mr. Green."
The statement added, "CFD works hard to prevent fire deaths and we try to work just as hard to get to victims of fire. Tragically we were not successful this time."
The ME's report listed the cause of Green's death as a mixture of heroin toxicity with a significant contributing factor the inhalation of smoke from the fire.
In June, the Bryant sisters watched as city workers finished clearing the lot where the building once stood.
"This is a very heartbreaking situation, and I don't want nobody else to go through what we went through," Tonisha Bryant said.
"It matters to me because I love my dad. And I feel like at the end of the day, he didn't deserve that. He didn't deserve to sit in a building and rot for three whole months," said Sherry Bryant.
Chicago fire officials said a person's social position has no bearing on the vigor of the search.
After Green's body was finally found, the City Fire Commissioner ordered an internal review and remedial training to minimize the chance of this situation happening again.
How common is this mistake? The U.S. Fire Administration keeps 25 million statistics, but the number of failed recoveries is not among them.
FULL STATEMENT FROM THE CHICAGO FIRE DEPARTMENT
Despite multiple searches by both the fire department and the police department along with a cadaver canine, CFD now believes we missed Mr. Green. Mr. Green was found in a room that was not the origin or initial spread of the fire and there was about two feet of clothing and debris above the body.
Commissioner Santiago ordered an internal review after the discovery of the body in the spring. Each fire company involved was interviewed, the scenario was reviewed and training occurred to minimize the chances of this happening in the future and to ensure all searches are as exhaustive as possible.
The social position of any person needing help from the Fire Department has no bearing on the vigor employed in a search. CFD works hard to prevent fire deaths and we try to work just as hard to get to victims of fire. Tragically we were not successful this time. The Fire Department as a whole and especially the crews who worked that fire are saddened by the loss and the fact that Mr. Green was missed.