It hasn’t sunk in yet for Consuelo Benamon that her baby boy is gone.
The mother of six was a few houses down the street on Valentine’s Day when a fire broke out in a two-flat apartment building at 151 N. Laramie Ave., in the Austin neighborhood.
Benamon’s youngest son, Ja’Antwaion Edwards, just 3-years-old, was killed Feb. 14 when the fire spread to an adjacent apartment at 149 N. Laramie. Edwards was taken to Loretto Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Benamon’s 4-year-old son, Divine, who has cerebral palsy, was also injured in the fire as well as a 56-year-old woman.
“I’ve been holding myself up. It’s tough. I keep on asking people to pinch me because it looks like a dream,” Benamon, 34, said during a Tuesday morning press conference at the Westside Health Authority, 4800 W. Chicago Ave.
State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th) called the press conference to seek donations to help Benamon with funeral expenses. Now homeless, Benamon splits her time with relatives and Loyola Hospital where Divine is being treated for smoke inhalation.
Family members who attended the press conference said it’s been difficult for Benamon to plan for a funeral and care for Divine, who, they say, is in critical condition.
“It’s really hard, the fact that she is dealing with the loss of her son but not having the funds to put him to rest,” Benamon’s cousin Martez Wess said. “Her baby didn’t get a chance to live his entire life but the one thing she wants to give him is a proper burial.”
Wess said that they have been keeping Benamon’s spirits up so she can stay strong for her other children, Dont’e, 14, Demetrius, 20, D’Angelo, 19, and Desire, 17. Dont’e who was home when the fire broke out escaped unharmed. His three older siblings were not home. Benamon has had to separate her children among families until they find stable housing.
“It is hard seeing her like this,” added Wess, an Austin resident.
Ford said the family is in need of clothes, housing and donations to help with the funeral expense. He’s calling on funeral homes willing to assist the family in burying Ja’Antwaion.
“We hope that a funeral home will see this family and will provide the services to accommodate this family,” he said. “I know that if the family had it their way, they wouldn’t ask for any support. They would do everything they could on their own. We want to reunite this family and make them whole again.”
“We do need the support and whatever and whoever can give, we’ll appreciate it,” said Tavion Sandifer, a cousin from Milwaukee.
The fire started around 8 p.m. Feb. 14 at 151 N. Laramie Ave. Divine was injured in that fire, but his older brother Dont’e escaped unharmed. The fire, however, spread to the apartment next door where Ja’Antwaion’s godmother, Penny Triplet, 56, was watching him.
When Benamon arrived on the scene she said she saw a lot of smoke and fire equipment. She said she didn’t realize her house was involved or her children were injured until she saw fire crews carry Ja’Antwaion down a ladder and Divine out on a stretcher.
Benamon said Ja’Antwaion, who she called “Jaa,” and Divine were never without each other and she would often dress them alike.
“When you see Jaa you see Divine,” she said, adding that Ja’Antwaion, taught Divine who couldn’t crawl or walk because of his cerebral palsy to do just that. “Jaa taught him how to crawl. Jaa taught him how to walk up the stairs. Jaa taught him how to do everything. That was my pride and joy.”
Ja’Antwaion’s cause of death is still undetermined pending police and fire investigations, said officials at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. Larry Langford with the Chicago Fire Department said the fire seems accidental in nature, but the investigation has been turned over to the police for final determination.