The death of four children in a tragic Thompson, Man., house fire on Wednesday has family and friends struggling to cope with the loss and doing their best to support the three people who survived.
The children, who have been identified by family as Helen Joy Keeper, 10, Leon Keeper Jr., 9, Big Bear Keeper, 7, and Rowan Thomas, 4, all died after being rushed to hospital.
Manitoba RCMP said a 41-year-old woman and a 62-year-old man, who had been in the basement when they heard the sound of a fire upstairs, were able to escape, as was a 13-year-old girl who jumped from a second-floor window to safety.
Shirley Robinson, a cousin of the children’s mother and a council member of Pimicikamak Cree Nation, told Global News the tragedy has had a devastating effect on family and the community.
“What transpired here has a huge impact on all of us — all my siblings, her siblings, all our cousins, all our families,” she said.
“This hits the core of the heart. And there’s no words, really. There’s no words that can come out in all of us right now. You don’t know how to feel because of the loss of these four beautiful children. And it’s very hard.”
Robinson said extended family has rallied around the survivors and people are doing what they can to provide strength and support, but it’s hard to know what to do other than offer comfort and love.
“It’s so hard to understand what happened. It’s so hard to process what happened. And to feel that absence of these children. And if you still feel it, you’ll always feel it. And it’s very painful for all of us,” she said.
“They were very eager. They were very outgoing. They were so kind. They were so compassionate. They welcomed people into their lives.
“There was a lot of potential for these kids to make a difference in our society. They had potential to finish high school and be someone they really wanted to be. I saw that in them… they all had their little dreams. They shared their little dreams with their aunties. And they shared their little dreams with everyone else.”
Manitoba RCMP say the fire is not being looked at as a criminal incident.
Sgt. Paul Manaigre told Global News that the incident isn’t considered suspicious, and investigators are looking into what caused the blaze, which appears to have started on the house’s main floor.
“(Investigators) are just trying to determine the exact cause from within the home,” he said.
“All indications point to this to be a non-criminal type of investigation for the cause of the fire.”
Manaigre said officers were nearby and arrived at the scene in less than a minute and learned that seven people were inside, but the fire was already raging by that point.
“By the time officers were on scene… the main floor apparently was quite involved already, and then by the time the fire department arrived, it had spread even more.”
The experience, he said, is likely to have had a traumatic impact on first responders who were at the scene.
“The fire department… those members had to get in there. They had to retrieve the children — and I can imagine what kind of experience that would be like.
“So I can imagine there’ll be some assistance. I hope there’s assistance for that kind of need right now, for the first responders up there.”