Willie Ayala died on the second floor of his home after the fire broke out on the first floor at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday. Willie's younger brother Christopher, 10, and his father Jesus "Chuy" Ayala are being treated for burns at Loyola University Hospital.
Momence Fire Chief Monty Buchanan says he does not know if the home had working smoke detectors. He says eight people live in the home and five of them are children. At the time of the fire, seven people were inside.
Everyone escaped besides Willie, who is a sixth-grader at Momence Junior High. The chief said Willie's dad had tried to save him but couldn't.
"Initially he had ran to a neighbor's house to let somebody know there was a fire. They called initially 911 and he already had severe burns. So he had attempted to already do a self-rescue of his own but was unsuccessful," Buchanan said.
There's word yet on what caused the fire, but the fire chief says at this point it is not suspicious.
Neighbors and friends in the community of Momence are grieving the boy's death, saying the entire family is well-known in town and very active in their church. Family friend and fellow church member Tyler Lovell remembers Willie's bright smile and enthusiasm.
"Anybody that knew Willie always smiled when they talked about Willie," Lovell said. "He was a great kid."
Lovell says Willie was highly involved in the Calvary Community Church's youth program just down the road. Other friends say Willie loved soccer and playing video games. They came to pay their respects at the scene of the fire Saturday morning on Harvard Street.
"He was a nice friend. I always liked hanging with him," said friend Jario Bucio. "I think this is a nightmare or something."
Workers at a nursing home across the street saw stared at the yellow tape and boarded up windows in disbelief.
"Seeing them bring out that young man this morning, that was a sad situation," said Yvonne Jarret, a nurse at Stone Crest Manor.
"They are a very nice family. We watched some of them in distraught this morning," said Debra Jean, a nurse at Stone Crest Manor.
Red Cross is helping the family and church members are also trying to reach out offer emotional and financial support