WEATHER ALERT

Four children killed in Thompson house fire

A devastating house fire in Thompson left a mother grieving her four children killed in the blaze and officials moving to respond to the “heartbreaking tragedy.”

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A devastating house fire in Thompson left a mother grieving her four children killed in the blaze and officials moving to respond to the “heartbreaking tragedy.”

The siblings — all ages 10 and under — died in the fire on Queens Bay in the northern Manitoba city that sparked around 8:40 p.m. Wednesday.

The children’s mother, the siblings’ older sister, and another resident made it out with injuries RCMP described as not life-threatening.

“It’s devastating what happened. It’s affecting everybody. It’s affecting two (First) Nations, which is Cross Lake and Split Lake,” said Shirley Robinson, who is acting as a family spokesperson as her cousin, Shelley Thomas, mourns her children and recovers from the injuries she suffered in the fire.

IAN GRAHAM / THOMPSON CITIZEN

Once crews got the flames under control, firefighters got inside and found the four youngsters — a 10-year-old girl, nine-year-old boy, seven-year-old boy and four-year-old boy. The children were rushed to hospital but later died of their injuries, police said.

Robinson, a band councillor for Pimicikamak Cree Nation, confirmed Helen Joy Keeper, 10, Leon Keeper Jr., 9, Big Bear Keeper, 7 — who was to celebrate his eighth birthday Thursday — and Rowan Thomas, 4, had died.

While the children are from Pimicikamak (Cross Lake), their father’s home community is Tataskweyak Cree Nation (Split Lake).

Robinson said the children often made trips north to visit relatives.

“They were full of laughter. They were outgoing. They were so eager and they had pleasing personalities,” she said. “As soon as you saw them, they would come to you and hug you and kiss you.”

On Wednesday, RCMP officers, who had been at an unrelated call on the 100 block of the street, reported noises down the road and a “significant” amount of smoke coming from the residence.

When firefighters and other Mounties arrived, the home was fully engulfed in flames, RCMP said Thursday.

GOFUNDME

Helen Joy Keeper, 10, Leon Keeper Jr., 9, Big Bear Keeper, 7, and Rowan Thomas, 4, died in the fire at their family home in Thompson.

The 41-year-old Thomas told officers she had been in the house’s basement with a 62-year-old man when they heard the sounds of fire upstairs. The pair got to the house’s main floor, but were forced to flee because of the smoke and flames, RCMP said.

Thomas told Mounties her 13-year-old daughter had jumped from a second-floor window, but four of her children were still on the second floor, police said.

Once crews got the flames under control, firefighters got inside and found the four youngsters. The children were rushed to hospital but later died of their injuries, police said.

Thomas, the 62-year-old man and 13-year-old girl were taken to hospital.

Holding back tears during question period Thursday, Thompson NDP MLA Eric Redhead asked other elected representatives to keep the family and community in their thoughts and prayers, before the assembly held a moment of silence.

“We know that the RCMP, Thompson fire paramedics, have done everything they could to help save those children, but… they had unfortunately passed,” he said, offering his condolences.

“We know that the RCMP, Thompson fire paramedics, have done everything they could to help save those children, but… they had unfortunately passed.”–Eric Redhead

Redhead said the deaths will have a huge impact on the northern city (which he called tight-knit), area schools and the family.

The MLA said he spoke with the mayor, who told him she was bringing in crisis response teams. Redhead planned to catch the next available flight North.

“It’s important to be there because these are four young children who lost their lives to preventable tragedy,” he said.

An online fundraiser for the family had already collected more than $1,600 by Thursday evening. A flashlight prayer vigil is planned for Saturday on Queens Bay, according to social media posts.

A neighbour described the blaze and loss of life as “all kinds of awful.”

The 46-year-old woman, who asked the Free Press to withhold her name, said her 24-year-old son was outside their Queens Bay home when he noticed signs of the fire at the home, which she described as a side-by-side duplex.

“He ran back in and said, ‘Mom, I think there’s a fire down the street — there’s people screaming — I think there’s a fire, should I go?’” the woman said.

IAN GRAHAM / THOMPSON CITIZEN

A shrine of stuffed animals and flowers outside the Thompson duplex where the fire killed four children.

“I looked out the window, and it was just white smoke at first, not the dark, black smoke — so I said, ‘Yeah, go!’”

She put on her boots to go help, too, but didn’t have her cellphone with her. The woman ran back home to call the fire department, which she believes other residents of the street did as well.

“It was just too much, you couldn’t get close, the smoke… it hurt to breathe,” said the neighbour. “Police were there right away, there was a whole bunch of police, then the fire trucks came right after.”

The woman said fire crews were still working the scene around midnight, and police were still on the street when she spoke to the Free Press by phone mid-afternoon Thursday.

“It’s a horrible thing to witness. I can’t even put it into words, it’s just so upsetting. You see it on TV, and you’re sad and you’re upset, but right down the street, to witness it, it’s a whole other thing.”

“It’s a horrible thing to witness. I can’t even put it into words, it’s just so upsetting.”–Neighbour

In a statement, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said: “I express the grief we are all feeling… The loss of children due to such a tragedy is heartbreaking. I extend prayers to the surviving family members.”

Settee said the advocacy organization’s mobile crisis response team will assist, and MKO has reached out to the children’s school.

Manitoba RCMP commanding officer Rob Hill offered condolences Thursday to the family, community and everyone grieving.

The Thompson Professional Firefighters Association would not comment when reached by phone, but said in a social media post “it was difficult to find the words” to respond to the deaths.

The Office of the Fire Commissioner and Thompson RCMP are investigating.

Robinson said her cousin was just released from Thompson General Hospital and needs time to process what has happened.

“The only thing we can do at this time is to be there for one another.”

— with files from Carol Sanders and Maggie Macintosh

erik.pindera@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @erik_pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera
Reporter

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.

History

Updated on Thursday, October 27, 2022 7:06 PM CDT: image cutline updated

Updated on Thursday, October 27, 2022 7:39 PM CDT: Writethru

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