Four Children Killed in House Fire in Chicago, Illinois

CHICAGO (AP) -- A minister's three children and his godson were killed in a late-night house fire, while the pastor and his wife attended a church service just blocks away, officials said Saturday.

The front of the wood-frame home on Chicago's West Side was engulfed in flames that were spreading to a neighboring home when firefighters arrived late Friday, said deputy district fire chief Patrick Kehoe.

Firefighters found the bodies of three children in a bedroom in the attic, officials said. A teenage boy was found at the foot of a staircase suffering from severe burns over most of his body. He died at a nearby hospital, officials said.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office had not released all the victims' names Saturday, but identified three of the children as 12-year-old Cedric Langston, 7-year-old Travis Funches and Dionna Funches, who family members say was a toddler.

Alderman Ed Smith and neighbors said they were the children and godson of the Rev. Dwayne Funches, pastor of New Grace Memorial Missionary Baptist Church.

``When tragedy strikes, it really hurts. We can only be there to support,'' Smith said.

At a prayer service Saturday, family and friends surrounded Funches and his wife, Emily. With tears in his eyes, Funches spoke briefly, saying he was standing strong in his faith.

``Me, my wife and my family, we're going to serve the Lord,'' he said.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.

Emergency officials also are investigating allegations that initial calls about the fire to the 911 center were met with skeptical operators who accused callers of performing a prank, officials said.

Karen Lozano, 48, said when she saw flames shooting from the white two-story home, she told her adult son to call 911. When her son said the operators didn't believe him, she grabbed the phone.

``I said 'this is not a crank call, this house is burning,''' Lozano said.

City officials are reviewing the calls, which Office of Emergency Management spokeswoman Monique Bond said started coming in at 11:25 p.m., three minutes before firefighters arrived at the scene.

Dozens of community members gathered Saturday around the house. The front yard was filled with charred debris - a scorched green armchair, a melted plastic lawn chair and blackened planters.

Arthelia Gause, 29, held her 5-year-old son's hand as she placed two teddy bears at the base of the sign.

``I have children and a teddy bear doesn't say enough, but I just wanted to express my sympathies,'' she said.

Kehoe said the firefighters were particularly affected by the fire because it involved children. His firehouse is located about 1,000 yards from the home.

``It's so important for the community and the family to know that our support goes out to them,'' he said.

Lozano said she used to watch the children hang out on their front porch.

``I know those kids and it just breaks my heart,'' she said, wiping away a tear.

Another neighbor, Ben Figg, 38, said he has known the Funches for years and described the children as good kids who ``didn't get into no mischievous stuff at all.

``You're not supposed to outlive your kids. The kids are supposed to bury you,'' he said.