When 19-year-old Roderick Goodman woke up in a smoke-filled bedroom early Thursday, his first instinct was to get out of the brick rowhouse where he lived with his grandparents and several other relatives.
He jumped two stories to the ground in front of the Northeast Baltimore home and landed unhurt. But as flames shot from the first floor of the home in the city's Frankford neighborhood, he heard his aunt cry: "Help me, help me get my baby."
She threw the two-month-old from a second-floor window, into Goodman's arms. Then the young woman jumped to safety herself.
Goodman, Shade Worrell, 19, and her baby were among the survivors of a fire that left five people dead. Four children, aged 1 to 7 years, and their 55-year-old grandmother, Nancy Worrell, died when the fire tore through the rowhouse, an end unit of four attached homes. Wilson Worrell, 52, Nancy's husband, escaped but was seriously injured and taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital after jumping from the second story.
"I know I saved the baby, but I wanted to save my whole family," Goodman said later in the morning, as he stood near the ruined home.
According to Sharron Fenner, the victims included her grandson, James Holden Jr., 1, and her mother, Nancy Worrell, who had offered to babysit James overnight. Three other Worrell grandchildren: K'Niyah Scott, and Daryl Stewart, 4, who are the children of Shade Worrell, and Tykia Manley, 7, also died in the fire.
When city firefighters arrived, shortly after the first alarm and just after 2 a.m., heavy fire and smoke were coming from the first floor at 5601 Denwood Ave. and quickly extended to the second floor and attic, Fire Department spokesman Chief Kevin Cartwright said.
"The fire was so intense that the front door was bent inward," he said. "It was so intense, I'm surprised anyone survived."
Neighbor Mike Matthews said he had watched as small flames poked out of the second-floor windows — and quickly grew.
"At that point, those flames were like an open pit fire," he said. "I thought something was wrong because I didn't see the grandmother and the kids."
Lakia Worrell, Tykia's mother, arrived on the scene as the home was smoldering. "I knew there was no hope," she said.
Harriett Williams, who lives about two blocks away, said the flames were so high, she thought an entire street was on fire. Sandra Royster ran from her home on Aberdeen Avenue and cut through yards, only to hear a young man shouting, "My grandmother is still in there and there are more babies."
Royster said, "It was just an inferno. It burnt so fast. I heard a boom and then, the whole upstairs was on fire."
Family members apparently were spread among the three bedrooms on the second floor, with many of the children in a rear room. The fire started in the rowhouse's basement, and spread upward, fire officials said. City Fire Chief James S. Clack said interviews with family members who escaped the fire and an initial investigation indicated the home had no working smoke detectors.
As firefighters began a search and rescue operation, two of them fell through the first floor into the basement.
"It's not like you see on TV, it's dark and hot, you can't see where you're going, you're moving by feel and trying to feel the floor in front of you to make sure it's there," Clack said. "And in this case, it was there but it was not solid and that's the most dangerous thing a firefighter does is crawl into a space that appears to be safe."
Both firefighters were transported to Bayview Burn Center with non-life-threatening injuries, Cartwright said.
Cartwright said all five victims were found on the second floor, in the back bedroom. The fire was officially under control at 3:47 a.m.
Later in the morning, neighbors and relatives mourned the victims, including the woman some called the "hip-hop grandma." Many wrapped tearful family members in strong embraces and prayed with them. Shade Worrell clutched a white blanket around her, even after a neighbor gave her a fleece jacket.
Barbara Hopkins, the great-grandmother of the children who died, believes Nancy Worrell died trying to protect them.