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Brooklyn Apartment Fire That Killed 1-Year-Old Takes Aunt's Life, Too

NY Daily News - December 18, 2016

by ROSS KEITH CHAUNCEY ALCORN THOMAS TRACY LARRY MCSHANE

The two sisters took turns frantically leaning out an open window while clutching baby Ivan. Brandy said she was holding onto the crying baby in the midst of the chaos when the child suddenly became silent.

“He just stopped crying,” she recalled.

Firefighters found the boy unconscious and unresponsive shortly after kicking down the door of the 13th-floor apartment at the Howard Houses in Brownsville.

Other relatives said Ortiz’s 22-year-old son Angel tried to open the apartment door and lead everyone to safety — but the door knob and lock were so hot, he severely burned his hands. A source said Angel also suffered burns to his ear and nose.

The hallway in the three-bedroom apartment on Mother Gaston Blvd. became choked with black and gray smoke. Sources said Angel was able to maneuver his way through the furniture and the flames to open a window and scream down for help.

Ortiz was rushed to the hospital after the smoky blaze that killed her nephew.

She was in the apartment on the top floor of the Howard Houses to baby-sit her sister’s son. Her own son Brandon, 8, remains in the hospital, according to his father, Juan Paez, 50.

“I’m in shock. It’s so hard for me,” said Paez, who told The News he and Ortiz met in the 1990s and fell in love. They never married despite having two children together, he said. They split after Brandon was born, but remained close friends, he added.

He described Ortiz as a “great mother” who always helped her family out. Paez said he felt “totally devastated” by the news. He’d spoken to Ortiz, who was from the Dominican Republic, the night before the fire and she had let little Ivan gurgle into the phone, he said.

“I was in a bad mood and that little kid cheered me up. That baby was so beautiful,” Paez said.

The family was working with the Red Cross to find a place to go. None of them has been able to return to their charred home.

A preliminary investigation indicated the fire began in a refrigerator, an appliance not supplied by the New York City Housing Authority.

“I’d like to send my condolences out to the family,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “When a child dies in our community ... it reverberates throughout our entire community.”

Adams lent his support to a fund-raising effort to help the family with funeral expenses for both its lost members. Ortiz reportedly died without any life insurance.