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Community mourns 6 siblings killed in South Bend house fire

Six markers are placed in front of a burned out home in South Bend, Ind., Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. An 11-year-old girl who was hospitalized for burns following a northern Indiana house fire has died, bringing the fire's death toll to six children, all of them siblings, authorities said Monday. (Camille Sarabia/South Bend Tribune via AP)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Members of a northern Indiana community mourned and searched for answers Monday as they gathered for the funeral of six siblings killed in a house fire.

The Smith siblings — 11-year-old Angel, 10-year-old Demetris, 9-year-old Davida, 5-year-old Deontay, 4-year-old D’Angelo and 17-month-old Faith — died after a fire engulfed their South Bend home on Jan. 21. Six photographs of the children and six flower arrangements lined the stage for the funeral held at the at the Century Center convention space.

“We all want answers,” Mayor James Mueller said during the service. “It’s hard to even fathom how this could happen. Why could this happen? How could this be prevented so it could never happen again?” Mueller asked.

“There’s never going to be an answer that’s adequate when you lose children, to have their lives cut far, far too short,” the mayor said.

Fire officials said the siblings were trapped by flames on the second floor of the home in South Bend, a city of about 100,000 people located just south of the Michigan state line. Their father survived the blaze. He told firefighters that he tried to rescue the children but was forced back by heavy smoke and wind-driven flames.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Community leader Lynn Coleman talked about the impact the “Smith6” have had on their community since their deaths.

“They’ve brought people together across this community — Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, young, old, rich, poor,” Coleman said at the funeral. “They’ve connected people that would’ve never talked with each other. They’ve caused people to come together to say, ‘What can I do to help?’”