BOSTON, Mass. -- A South Boston mother whose daughters perished in a suspected arson fire while home alone with their brother begged God to take her instead as she helplessly watched her life go down in flames.
"She was screaming, 'Please, take me, not my kids. I will die bringing them out,' " Anna Reisopoulos' friend and neighbor Daniel Zyskowski said as the smoke settled on the scorched shell of what had been 154 West 6th St.
Trapped and killed on the third floor of the rented row house were Acia Johnson, 14, and her 3-year-old sister, Sophia Johnson. When their bodies were found in a closet, Acia reportedly was cradling Sophia in her arms.
"It's terrible. I'm just sick. It's just a horrible tragedy," said a close relative as she tended to Reisopoulos' stricken 72-year-old mother last night.
"Acia and Sophia were good, good kids. They didn't deserve this," she said.
After perilous attempts to rescue his doomed siblings, Acia's twin brother, Raymond, escaped the three-alarm inferno to run and find his mother, sources said. It was unclear where she was at 3:18 a.m., when the fire was first reported.
Boston Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said the front of the house was already "fully involved" by the time firefighters arrived from less than a mile away.
Sources told the Herald that Reisopoulos, 34, had fought with a friend sometime Saturday night or early yesterday morning.
Though no arrests had been made as of early last night, "We believe it was most likely a homicide," one source said.
Raymond told investigators he was asleep on the second floor when he heard banging on the front door and a woman's voice screaming, "Open the (expletive) door," sources said.
Minutes later, the house was ablaze. A state police accelerant-sniffing dog was brought in to work the scene, which as of last night was still being processed. The sisters' bodies were still inside. Property damages were estimated at $500,000.
"It's a very tragic day," Mayor Thomas M. Menino told reporters upon visiting the site. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family."
"Whoever did this is evil," said Reisopoulos' neighbor Marie Cardinale, 32. "It's beyond my mind. It's just sick. To know that there were kids in that house, to do this, is evil."
Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley, said, "The scene, the facts and the circumstances are all under investigation."
Southie City Councilor Michael Flaherty called the tragedy "a cowardly and violent act."
"As a father of four, my heart aches for these children," he said.
Flaherty also praised valiant firefighters who, according to witnesses, kicked in the flaming front door and rushed into the breath of hell in search of survivors.
"Once again, Boston firefighters showed their commitment to protecting our community," Flaherty said. "They were fearless in their efforts."
Raymond and neighbors reportedly stood outside yelling to the girls to jump from the third floor.
Zyskowski said Reisopoulos, shoeless and in her pajamas, was so overcome with emotion, "She collapsed and hit her head on the sidewalk."
Both she and her son were hospitalized at Boston Medical Center for undisclosed injuries.
Throughout a drizzly afternoon, friends and neighbors placed flowers outside the charred structure. As of 7 p.m., one group had stood vigil for 11 hours waiting for the remains to be carried out so they could pay their respects.
"She loved her kids. She would do anything for her kids," Zyskowski said of Reisopoulos. "I'm proud to know her. I'm going to pray for her."
Republished with permission of The Boston Herald.