Son Unable to Save Mom, 99, from New York City Fire

March 23, 2024
FDNY firefighters found the woman's body in the basement after a wall of fire halted her rescue.

Leonard Greene, Colin Mixson

New York Daily News


A Brooklyn man whose 99-year-old mother perished in an apartment building blaze said he tried to save her, but was stopped by a wall of fire that stood between her and her bedroom.

Alemise Marcellus was found dead in the basement after a fire broke out in a Flatbush building Thursday night, according to the NYPD.

“I couldn’t get to her,” said Roger Arthur, 69. “I tried. I almost died.”

Arthur, who shares the home with his mother, said he was sleeping around 9 p.m. when their apartment began to fill with smoke.

Arthur said he rushed to save his mother, who suffered from arthritis and had difficulty walking.

But as the son approached his mother’s bedroom, he said he was confronted by a wall of fire and thick clouds of smoke that forced him to turn back.

Firefighters were called to the two-story home on Regent Place near E. 21st St. just after 9:10 p.m., an FDNY spokesperson said.

Medics pronounced her dead at the scene.

Ian Villarreal, 32, who lives next door, said he caught a whiff of smoke from within his second-floor apartment and saw the light of flames glowing from inside the basement unit of the neighboring building.

“Whatever happened, it started in the basement,” Villarreal said.

A woman who lives below Villarreal said she was returning home when she spotted a shoeless man in his pajamas fleeing from the smoldering sub unit. She said smoke billowed behind him as he stammered that his 99-year-old mother remained trapped in the burning row house.

“The guy came out and was kind of stumbling,” the neighbor said. “ I was like, ‘Are you OK?’ He just kind of seemed really disoriented. The guy was like, ‘My mom’s in there. I was like, ‘Someone’s in there? I’m going to call 911.'”

Another neighbor said he spotted a resident of the burning building break down after returning home to find the house in ruins.

“She was screaming,” said the man, who gave his name as Ashton. “No words, just ‘Ahh! Ahh!’ It sounded like complete disbelief. Like a super panic attack.”

Officials are investigating the cause of the blaze, but Arthur said his mother had a space heater in her room, and that he suspects the appliance is responsible for the fire.

Neighbors said that the two-story row house had been unoccupied for months and real estate agents had been hosting tours as the family looked to sell the building.

Arthur said the building is owned by his sister, who suffers from dementia, and is managed by his niece, who was in the process of finalizing the sale of the property when the fire broke out.

Arthur said a buyer for the building had been found.

The Department of Buildings has no records of complaints or violations related to the burnt property, according to a spokesman.

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