BROOKLYN -- Claude Shelby Jr. said he would have gone back into his burning home Thursday morning had he known his brother was still inside.
Larry Shelby, 52, died in the fire started by a candle Thursday morning at his home, 604 Jefferson St. in Brooklyn. He was pronounced dead at 7:43 a.m.
"I hollered and alarmed my brother. He responded. He was up. I thought he was right behind me. I went across the street," Claude Shelby said.
"When you first wake up, you're groggy. I had no idea he was still in the house. My brother and I were very close. If I had known he was still in the house, I would have immediately went back in."
Brooklyn Fire Chief Brett Walker said the fire call came at about 6:15 a.m. Thursday.
"When we arrived, the house was fully involved. After we knocked the fire down, we went inside. We found the body of a black male about 50 years old lying on the floor in a back bedroom," Walker said.
A candle started the fire in a garage that was attached to the house, Claude Shelby said. A male friend and his girlfriend were staying in the garage temporarily and the unidentified female fell asleep and left the candle burning.
That was also the conclusion of the Illinois State Police investigation, said Sgt. Jim Morrissey. An occupant of the Shelbys' home fell asleep in a chair with a candle burning next to it.
"The occupant later woke up and discovered the chair was on fire. Several occupants attempted to extinguish the fire and evacuate everyone," Morrissey said.
Flames rose about 20 feet, but there was little smoke, Walker said. It took about an hour to control.
The house was reduced to rubble. A burned couch, water heater and garage door littered the yard. A burned car sat in the shell of the garage.
Later Thursday, friends of the Shelbys drove by steadily, staring at the remains of the house that had been the family's home for generations. Their mother and father, the Rev. Claude Shelby, had lived there as had their grandparents.
Next-door neighbor Kenneth Webster said he knew something was wrong when he arrived home about 6:30 a.m. and saw a helicopter hovering.
"When I turned on Sixth Street, I saw the firefighters extinguishing the fire. They didn't know a body was in the house until about an hour and a half later," he said.
Webster said Shelby didn't have a regular job.
"He washed cars and cut grass for people. He was a nice guy."
Another neighbor, Michael Hall, said he had just seen Shelby Wednesday night at the neighborhood Chinese restaurant on Fifth Street.
"He was by himself. He always walked up the street, every night," Hall said.
"It's kind of sad, knowing I won't see him around any more. Everybody knew who he was," Hall said.
Claude Shelby described his brother as a very soft-spoken, kind-hearted individual who cared about others.
"He was my only brother. There was nothing we wouldn't do for one another," he said. "No matter how much fire there was, if I knew he was in there, I would've went back in there. There is no doubt in my mind."