Mom, neighbors doubt child started fire

5-year-old fire victim clinging to life after fire in Brooklyn
July 8, 2008 4:58:50 PM PDT
A 5-year-old fire victim is clinging to life Tuesday after he was caught in a fire he may have set to kill his grandmother in Brooklyn. But the boy's mother says that can't be the case. It happened on Knickerbocker Avenue in the Bushwick section.

One day after the fire, Jay Herrera's mother says if he set the fire he did so accidentally, with no desire to hurt his grandmother.

"He loves his grandmother," mom Sonia Cintron said.

Cintron knows in her heart that her son would never knowingly harm his grandmother, a woman who has been an important part of his life, helping raise him. Investigators believe the boy may have set fire to his grandmother's curtains Monday after she refused to let him go to the park.

"Lighting a fire, no, he loves his grandmother," Cintron said. "I don't believe that my son lit that fire intentionally."

Other neighbors in the close community of Bushwick say the story of revenge sounds wrong to them, too, and that the grandma and grandson didn't appear at odds to them.

"It was nice," one neighbor said. "I've never seen nothing wrong."

"They never seemed like they had any problems, and if there was something that we all missed, then we're all fault," neighbor William Bankhead said.

The burned-out home tells much of the story that troubles neighbors. The fire trapped Jay in the front room of the first-floor apartment. Firefighters rescued him after a neighbor pulled his grandmother to safety. The boy is in critical but stable condition. His mother believes he's improving, but he remains sedated

"Once that he's able to speak and wake up, I want to know from my own son what happened," Cintron said. "I think that he's able to tell me what did happen."

As for the grandmother, she suffered only minor injuries. So did a firefighter.

More on the fire in Bushwick, Brooklyn:

Firefighters got the call around 3 p.m. Monday afternoon.

When they arrived, the apartment was filled with flames and the little boy was trapped. His grandmother, shouting for her grandson, had to be pulled to safety by a neighbor.

"I saw the fire department carrying the boy out," witness Johnny Otero said. "He has shorts on, no shirt. They put him on the floor, and he wasn't breathing."

The young boy was rushed to New York- Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in cardiac arrest with burns over 90 percent of his body.

Relatives say the boy had recently made a series of prank calls to 911.

His grandmother punished him, keeping him from going to the park with friends.

"He couldn't go to the park with me," family friend Ramona Santos said. "And he said, 'I'm going to burn the house down when you leave.' But I didn't take it seriously.''

Investigators say it appears the boy used a lighter to set fire to his grandmother's curtains. Smoke alarms went off, but the flames and the extreme heat kept her from reaching her trapped grandson.

STORY BY: Jamie Roth
WEB PRODUCED: Lakisha Bostick