Virginia Thomas and Rosalee McDonald, two sisters, are among the confirmed victims in the deadly Philadelphia fire that killed at least 12 in a three-story apartment building early Wednesday morning.
Though officials have not identified any of the dozen or so who perished in the blaze, family members named Thomas, 30, and McDonald, 33, as victims.
Their cousin Aneisha Thomas told reporters that four of Virginia’s children and six of Rosalee’s children made up the remainder of the victims.
Investigators believe the fire started in a kitchen on the home’s second story. Though firefighters arrived within minutes of receiving the three dozen 911 calls, the building reportedly had no fire escape on the second floor, and smoke detectors were not working properly.
Virginia Thomas, Rosalee McDonald Mourned
Aneisha Thomas told the Philadelphia Inquirer late on Wednesday that her cousins were among the adults killed earlier that morning.
“When I go visit Philly, it’s going to be a void,” she said. “It’s going to be a blank stare when I visit because of how I can’t go visit them.”
Aneisha, who reportedly struggled to speak through tears, said she grew up with her cousins in Philadelphia. She said she was told that all four of Virginia’s children and all six of Rosalee’s had perished in the blaze, but fire officials have estimated the number of child victims at just eight.
Meanwhile, their sister Keta Purifoy told the newspaper that she was still waiting for an official list from the fire department of who escaped and who did not.
“I don’t have no emotion, so I can’t really speak about nothing because I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on, just like everybody else,” said Purifoy, 37, on Wednesday. She was gathered with other family members in a prayer circle near an elementary school in the neighborhood where her sisters and their children lived and died, reports added.
Other family members reportedly declined to be interviewed and reiterated that they still weren’t sure who had survived the fire.
Virginia, nicknamed Jenny, and Rosalee, called Rose by friends, were observant Muslims, active members of their community, and hardworking parents, their friend Caprice Duckett told the newspaper.
“She didn’t bother nobody,” Duckett said of Virginia, who had a passion for styling hair and had the names of all four of her children — Shaniece, Natasha, Janiyah, Rahsean — tattooed on her body.
Deadliest Fire in Memory
According to ABC News, the Wednesday morning blaze on North 23rd Street was the deadliest in the last hundred years of Philadelphia history.
Officials believe 26 people were in the building when the fire broke out at or around 6:30 a.m. No cause has yet been determined, and the investigation could take days, according to local reports.
Still, the Philadelphia Fire Department seems to have a working theory of how the blaze spread. The fire likely started in a second story kitchen, they said, and spread rapidly through the building’s stairwell, quickly engulfing the entire apartment in flames and “heavy” smoke.
“Nothing was slowing that fire down,” said deputy fire commissioner Craig Murphy.
Though initially, authorities said that 13 had died, that figure was revised later on Wednesday. The official tally as of Thursday stands at 12 dead — eight children and four adults. City officials have still not released names of those who perished, and have not given a timeline for when they plan to do so.