Boy, 4, dies in Joliet apartment fire

April 8, 2010 2:44:37 PM PDT
A mother says firefighters should have done more to save her child, while officials question where she was when the blaze broke out.

The fire broke out at an apartment complex at 316 North Bluff, just west of the Des Plaines River, late Wednesday night.

Omariya Dishman, 4, was in the first-floor apartment where the fire started. Investigators say he was alone at the time. He was pronounced dead at Silver Cross Hospital.

The flames sparked around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. Officials continued cleaning out the apartment complex and boarding it up hours after it was extinguished. Investigators were unsure of the fire's cause. Firefighters say there were smoke detectors in each unit, but it isn't clear if they were working in the first-floor unit where the fire started.

"The fire was contained to that room. We had quite a few people evacuate. One of the firefighters did go to the fire room and that is where he did find the patient," said Ray Randich, Joliet Fire Department.

"I love my baby. I miss my baby. And my baby could have been saved if they would have just listened. But they didn't," said Tiana Wallace, mother.

Wallace, who is wheelchair bound, admits she was in the hallway and not inside the apartment when the fire started in the master bedroom. She says her friends knocked down the door to try to save her son. But Omariya, who loved Spiderman and who was often seen on the playground near his public housing complex, died in the blaze.

"They try to make me like I neglect my baby. My baby was always with me. For them to be saying what he was saying is wrong, absolutely wrong. And I feel like my baby could have been saved," said Wallace.

But firefighters say they took an offensive approach and stormed into the burning apartment immediately.

"As they were knocking the fire down, he left that line, went inside a bedroom that was right across from where they were at, a small bedroom where he found the young male patient," said Randich.

Fire investigators also say police and the Dept. of Children and Family Services are investigating and questioning Wallace about her whereabouts in the apartment complex just before the blaze.

Residents at the apartment complex are grieving the loss of Omariya's high energy and smile.

"Omariya was sweet and always around and liked to play and loved his mom," said Dejarea Howard, Oamriya's friend.

The 100-unit public housing apartment complex is also home to a day care center, which is part of the Catholic Charities of the Joliet Diocese, but the fire was reportedly contained to the apartment complex. The day care was closed Thursday.

"When I came out, it was smoke everywhere. It was so much smoke, you could barely breathe. Me and a couple of friends tried to go back in and let the people know that they were in a smoke fire, to get out. A lot of people didn't even know that the place was on fire," said Rodrick Pritchett, resident.

Nobody else was taken to the hospital, but there was a lot of smoke damage. Twenty residents were displaced.