Two Tots Die in Mo. Fire, Found Behind Front Door

A deadbolted front door prevented parents of two Berkeley boys, 2 and 4, from rescuing their sons from a fast moving house fire.


BERKELEY --Two young children died in a house fire in Berkeley early this morning after they became trapped at the deadbolted front door, authorities said.

Their parents and a third child were able to get out a window on a different side of the home, according to Berkeley Police Chief Frank McCall Jr. They put the infant girl in their car and tried to get back in the house to reach the two boys, but couldn't get in the locked front door, authorities said.

The parents were hysterical when firefighters arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m., authorities said. The home was engulfed in flames.

The boys, about 4 and 2, were found dead by the front door of the home in the 8200 block of Airport Road, authorities said.

"Kids are trained to go out a door, not a window, during a fire, so when they're hysterical, the training kicks in," McCall said. "They tried to exit the front door, but it was deadbolted."

No foul play is suspected, McCall said.

The names of the two children who died haven't been released; authorities say they are withholding the names until additional relatives are notified.

The parents and the infant girl they carried out a window were all taken to a hospital.

The parents were identified as Steve Towns Sr., 30, and Cheronna Towns, 33. Steve Towns was in critical condition in the burn unit at Mercy Hospital St. Louis in Creve Coeur. Cheronna was in surgery and her condition was unavailable. The infant -- identified as 4-month-old Deja -- was in satisfactory condition in Mercy Children's Hospital, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

Neighbors spotted the fire just after 5:30 a.m.

"I looked out and saw the fire and yelled to my husband to call 911," said neighbor Lueverne Shotwell. "Oh my, there were babies inside."

Shotwell said she saw both parents wrapped in blankets and able to walk to an ambulance after the fire.

Berkeley Fire Chief Henry Williams said firefighters had to break down the front door. They found space heaters throughout the home, but the fire cause of the fire isn't yet known. He said he wasn't sure if the home had working smoke detectors.

William Armstead, a friend of the family, said he had just had breakfast with the family after church on Sunday. They attend Hope Church. "I can't believe this," he said.

The infant was born before Christmas and was a few months old, according to Shotwell.

"They are sweet young people," she said of the parents. "And the cute little boys would be outside playing on the porch, and wave to me. I loved to watch them play."

She said their father was always watching over them and would take them on walks to the dollar store up the street.

Grieving relatives waited in cars in a parking lot across the street from the house.

School children and their parents heading to Airport School walked on the sidewalk across the street as investigators went in and out of the charred single-story home. The road remained closed late into the morning because of ice that had formed from water used to fight the fire. The road reopened shortly before 11 a.m.

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