CONYERS, Ga. - Local, state and federal fire investigators said it could take days before they can determine what started a deadly Rockdale County blaze that killed four children.
The fire started around 11 p.m. Tuesday at the Pinedale Circle home.
Investigators said when she was alerted to the fire, Reba Glass threw her 6-year-old son, Darnell Jr., out a second-story window then jumped out herself.
She then ran back inside and rescued her mother asleep downstairs.
But when she ran back upstairs to save the other four children, the flames caused second- and third-degree burns over 40 percent of her body.
Ah'Dariya, 9, DeShawn, 7, Amoni, 3, and 8-month old Deon, Jr. all perished in the inferno.
As the fire burned, LaMonte Stroud was arriving home from a Rockdale High School wrestling match.
Still wearing his wrestling uniform, Stroud tried to rescue the children. He said he saw Ah'Dariya in an upstairs window crying for help.
"I heard somebody just yelling and screaming," he said. "She was just saying, 'Help me, help me.'"
Unable to get up the stairs, Stroud said he rushed around back and climbed up to a second-story bathroom window.
"I started hitting the window with my fist," Stroud said. "I broke the window, and I was screaming 'Come to the bathroom, come to the bathroom, I can get y'all out.' But I guess they couldn't get out of the room or they were already gone by then."
Conyers Police Sgt. Bill Connell was the first officer on the scene. He attempted to get up the stairs using a fire extinguisher, but the inferno was just too intense.
"I tried to knock
(the fire) down with a fire extinguisher to make it through," Connell said. "I could feel it burning the top of my head. It's incredibly frustrating. You're looking for anything you can do, and there's just nothing."
Connell spotted Stroud and together they tried to use a stick to knock out the remaining
upstairs windows hoping they would see the children's faces, but they never did.
Investigators said they found all four bodies in two rooms either in bed or next to one.
Word spread quickly throughout the community Wednesday about the children who had perished in the fire.
Late Wednesday night, a group of 50-60 people gathered for an impromptu prayer vigil outside the home.
Children and parents placed candles and stuffed animal, creating a small shrine in honor of the children killed there.
“The innocence of the children, they're babies. They were just babies,” said parent Plachette White.
Family minister Billie Cox visited Glass at the hospital earlier in the day. She said the mother was still in shock.
“She said, ‘This is a dream. I'm just going to wake up, it's a bad dream and I'm going wake up and have my babies, going to have my babies,’” Cox said.
In addition to the Conyers Police and Rockdale County Fire Department, the state insurance office and ATF are also assisting in this investigation.
Family heartbroken over deaths
Family members call the children's deaths a devastating loss.
"It's bad enough to lose one child, but to lose four at a time, there's just no words to explain," said Hattie Moore, the victims' aunt.
Moore told Channel 2's Tom Regan she loved Reba Glass' children as if they were her own.
"She tried to go back up and save the rest of the kids, but she was unable to because of the heat. That's how she got her burns, trying to save them," Moore said.
Fire investigators working the scene said the fire started on the second floor possibly in a bathroom. The exact cause is unknown for now.
Police are assisting in the investigation.
"We have a pretty good idea of where the fire
originated. How it originated, we don't," Conyers Police Chief Gene Wilson said.
Close relatives told Regan it's an agonizing inconceivable loss for Glass.
"I mean it's a hurting feeling, four kids gone," great aunt Betty Hullum said.
Hullum said Glass rejoiced over the baptism of her only daughter last May.
"There was nothing more important in her life that those children," Moore said. "We ask that the community to continue to pray for the family and keep us close."
The 6-year-old who survived has been treated and released from the hospital. His mother is still at Grady Memorial Hospital with extensive burns.
Students, teachers learn of children's deaths
It was an emotional day at Shoal Creek Elementary where three of the children in Wednesday's fire attended school.
Counselors talked to classmates about the fire that killed Ah'Dariya, a second-grader, and Deshaw, a first-grader. Also hurt was their brother Darnell Jr., who is a kindergartner.
Counselors told Channel 2's Shae Rozzi they were the ones to actually breaking the news of the fire to the staff and students at the school.
A letter was being sent home to parents to make sure they know what happened and that they're prepared to talk to their children about it.
"It's sad to know that young kids losing their lives in a fire, I have two back here as you can see. I just can't imagine that. My prayers go out to the family," said parent James Palmer.
"I knew one of the girls that died in the fire," Palmer's daughter Syerra said, talking about Ah'Dariya. "She was very nice and very kind."
"It's really sad that they had to die so young, but they're in a better place now," fourth-grader Sydney Palmer told Rozzi.
Rockdale County Schools spokeswoman Cindy Ball told Rozzi it was a difficult day for not only the students, but the teachers as well.
"They have to absorb it so at first it's a little bit shocking but it's us adults that really understand death and the tragedy," Ball said.
She said counselors will stay at the school for days to come if need be, not just for students and staff, but for a community and a family who lost so much so quickly.
Funeral arrangements have been made for the children.
A memorial service will be held in their honor on Jan. 19 at 11 a.m. at the Macedonia Baptist Church located at 1052 Barton Street in Conyers.
A community prayer service has also been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, also at Macedonia Baptist Church.
A memorial fund has also been set up for the family. Donations can be made to the Glass Family Memorial Fund at any Wells Fargo branch.