A house fire in Thompson that left four children dead on Wednesday night has been called a “heartbreaking tragedy” by police.
Shirley Robinson, the cousin of the childrens’ mother, confirmed Helen Joy Keeper, 10, Leon Keeper Jr., 9, Big Bear Keeper, 7, and Rowan Thomas, 4, all died after being rushed to hospital.
Officers were at an unrelated call in the 100 block of Queens Bay around 8:40 p.m. when they say officers heard noise and saw a significant amount of smoke coming from a nearby home on the street.
When emergency crews arrived at the scene the home was fully engulfed in flames, Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook said Thursday.
“Four little lives were lost,” Smook told 680 CJOB’s The News, noting she has grandchildren the same age as those who died.
“None of us can imagine the devastation that this family has gone through.”
Police say a 41-year-old woman who had escaped from the home with a 62-year-old man told crews they had been in the basement when they heard the sound of a fire upstairs.
The woman said her 13-year-old daughter jumped from a second-floor window to escape, but, she told emergency crews four of her children were still inside the burning home, on the second floor.
Firefighters entered the home when the fire was brought under control and found the four children.
An online fundraiser has been set up to support the family.
“I offer my sincere condolences to the family, to the community, and to everyone who is grieving today,” said assistant commissioner Rob Hill, commanding officer of the Manitoba RCMP, in a release.
“This is a heartbreaking tragedy that will have a lasting impact on so many within Thompson and throughout the entire province.”
RCMP say the two adults and the 13-year-old girl were taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
Family has ties to First Nations communities: MKO
Grand Chief Garrison Settee from Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. expressed grief and sent condolences to the family.
The leader of the advocacy group that represents northern First Nations said the family has ties to two communities in the region.
“The loss of children due to such a tragedy is heartbreaking. I extend prayers to the surviving family members,” Garrison said in a release Thursday.
Garrison said MKO’s mobile crisis response team will be sent to help community members and the organization has also reached out to the school where the children were students.
“We will be working with the school to show our support to the students who are grappling with such devastating news about their peers,” Garrison said.
“I ask all Manitoba residents to keep this family and the impacted MKO Nations in your thoughts and prayers in the coming days.”
Thompson has a population of just over 13,000 people and is a fairly tight-knit community, said Smook.
Everyone from RCMP officers to hospital staff to the community school will feel the impact of these deaths, she said, adding the province is sending trauma counseling teams as well as emergency services to help city crews over the weekend.
Smook said the city is committed to offering support to the survivors and families and will connect with the First Nation communities on next steps.
“So many people are going to be affected by this.”
Eric Redhead, a New Democrat who represents the Thompson area in the Manitoba legislature, left Winnipeg immediately after question period to catch a flight home.
“These are four young children who have lost their lives to a preventable tragedy, and as a father myself, I can’t even fathom that,” he said.
The Thompson Professional Firefighters Association also addressed Wednesday’s fatal fire in a social media post.
“It is difficult to find the words … our thoughts, prayers and love go to the family and friends of the departed during this devastating time,” the organization said.
Thompson RCMP are continuing to investigate and say the cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
–With files from The Canadian Press