Bronx radiator explosion kills two baby girls in building used as homeless shelter
Two napping sisters died from burns Wednesday when a valve blew off a radiator in their Bronx apartment and filled their bedroom with scalding steam, officials said.
“It’s not fair,” said the girls’ father Peter Ambrose as tears streamed down his face. “They were the most beautiful babies in the world.”
Ibanez Ambrose, 2, and Scylee Ambrose, 1, were rushed to Lincoln Hospital shortly after the 12:06 p.m. blast. They were declared dead at the hospital.
Officials said the Hunts Point apartment building was a mixed-use facility the city uses to house homeless families.
“The radiator blew up,” a sobbing Ambrose added as he left the 41st Precinct stationhouse. “The steam killed my babies. It was New York public housing.”
A neighbor said the girls were napping in a bedroom with the door mostly shut, as their father slept in another room. The children’s mother, Danielle Ambrose, came home and went to check on the girls — only to see the room filled with steam.
“When the door opened, there was a popping sound from the radiator,” Maritza Morales said. “It looks like a valve blew, but they don’t really know what happened.”
Witnesses said the desperate parents ran out of the first-floor apartment on Hunts Point Ave., each carrying a badly burned girl. Neighbor Gilberto Lorenzo, 24, ran downstairs after hearing a commotion and said he saw the parents burst out of the apartment.
“The only thing I could see was they were purple and white,” Lorenzo said. “They weren’t moving at all.”
Lorenzo said the mother grabbed one of the girls, laid her down and began performing CPR. Moments later, firefighters and paramedics arrived.
“A radiator blew,” an FDNY source said. “It’s very bad.”
According to neighbors, the family had entered the holiday season already experiencing hard times.
“They had two beautiful baby girls,” Morales said. “They’re both homeless and out of work. They’ve been here about a year and two months. She plays guitar to make ends meet. Lately, she’s been playing so they can have a nice Christmas, so they can have any Christmas at all.”
She said the father is a tattoo artist.
The devastated dad lost his cool as the awful reality set in while he was talking to detectives.He screamed in anguish while at the local precinct stationhouse, “My kids are no longer alive.”
The girls’ grief-stricken mother tried to comfort him, whispering, “come on, babe,” as they left.
Bishop Fernando Rodriguez of the Fellowship of Christian Churches said he saw Peter Ambrose at the hospital.
“He didn’t know what to do,” Rodriguez said. “He was so destroyed that all he did was cry and cry.”
The girls’ aunt, Elizabeth Irish, issued a plea for cash to help the distraught couple on GoFundMe.
“Pete and Danielle have had their share of difficulties, but have always done everything they could to provide for the girls,” wrote Irish. “Ibanez and Skylee were overwhelmingly loved for the entirety of their short lives.”
Neighbors recalled that the girls were always smiling and very photogenic.
“We call them the Disney kids because they’re so gorgeous,” said neighbor Tye Wiggins, 28. “It’s heartbreaking. This could have happened to any one of us in the building.”
Annie Martinez, 47, said she saw steam pouring from the family’s apartment. She noted that her heat had been unbearable earlier in the day.
“This building is always having problems,” Martinez said. “This building used to be a decent building before the landlord turned it into a shelter.”
According to city records, the building is used as a shelter for homeless families and run by the Bushwick Economic Development Corp. A call to the organization was not returned.
The city was trying to determine if officials had been placing families with someone who’s on the public advocate’s “100 worst landlords” list. A Department of Housing Preservation and Development spokeswoman said Moshe Piller, the head officer of the corporation that owns the building, “is known to us.” The agency is trying to determine whether he’s the same person whose name appears on the landlords list.
Currently, the city’s Department of Homeless Services has five families in the building under its cluster-site program, in which the city houses families in private-sector apartment buildings, paying the rent until the family can find permanent housing.
The cluster-site program came under fire for allegedly putting families into decrepit apartments and was repeatedly attacked by Mayor de Blasio when he ran for office. He vowed to cut back on use of the program.
An official said that under the mayor the city has stopped using more than 450 such units, but is still relying on more than 3,200.
De Blasio visited the building hours after the little girls died.
“We are in the preliminary stages of what is a highly active, multiagency investigation into what happened in this home and whether there’s anything that can be done to help prevent such an unspeakable event in the future,” de Blasio said later in a statement. The city “will not rest until we can answer what has given rise to this heartbreaking incident.”
In March 2015, the city’s Department of Investigation issued a critical report on shelters, specifically labeling the cluster sites it inspected “to be the worst-maintained, the most poorly monitored.”
That included 55 violations at another site run by the Bushwick Economic Development Corp., the nonprofit that oversaw families in the Hunts Point building.
“Our report found a lot of dangerous conditions at clusters,” said Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters. “The (Homeless Services Department) agreed with us and said they were going to phase the clusters out, all of which gives added urgency to us looking at this now.”
The Department of Buildings has logged about 60 complaints at the building, according to city records. Inspectors visited the site in June, but their jurisdiction only allowed them to check the exterior and the common spaces. Housing inspectors — who are responsible for checking interiors — have visited the building several times this year.
On Oct. 31, they answered a complaint of “no heat” throughout the building. On Nov. 2, they cited the building for a faulty radiator valve in another apartment, but there was no record of a radiator issue in the apartment where the children lived. During the Nov. 2 visit, inspectors also found defective window guards in two apartments.
City records show the building was hit with a code violation Nov. 10 regarding “future gas connections.”
The records do not spell out what the building owner, listed as 719 Hunts Point Equities LLC, did in response to that citation.
City officials demanded immediate answers.
“As a father myself, this truly is every parent’s worst nightmare, and my heart and prayers go out to the family of these two young children,” said City Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr., who represents the area.
“This stirs up incredibly difficult emotions,” said city Controller Scott Stringer. “It comes as the homeless population has just reached yet another record high, and the number of children in the (Department of Homeless Services) system is soaring. We have to do better.”
Original story found here.