xml:space="preserve">

When Chris Rickman heard noise that sounded like an explosion early Tuesday and ran outside to see the house across the street on fire, he didn't hesitate. The 45-year-old man ran inside the burning two-story house despite his parents' attempts to stop him.

"I was shouting and [Chris] wouldn't answer," said his father, Jack Rickman. "Had I caught up with him. … I wouldn't have let him go in."

Advertisement

Chris Rickman was one of three people who perished in a two-alarm fire that tore through a church parsonage on Hilltop Road in Brooklyn Park.

Anne Arundel County fire officials identified the other victims as Lettitia Sinnah, 39, and Sundima Sinnah, 17 — the wife and son of the Rev. Samuel Sinnah, pastor of the nearby Brooklyn Park Church of the United Brethren in Christ. The pastor and another son, Joseph Sinnah, 20, survived.

Fire officials said Samuel, Lettitia and Joseph Sinnah initially made it out of the home after the fire started. But 17-year-old Sundima did not, and his mother ran back into the home to try to retrieve him.

Rickman ran in after her. None made it back out.

"[Chris] died a hero," Patty Rickman said of her brother.

Firefighters arrived at the house about 2:40 a.m. The three victims were unconscious when firefighters pulled them from the house and transported them to local hospitals, where they died. It took 55 firefighters from Anne Arundel County, Baltimore and BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport about an hour to control the blaze.

The Sinnah family, originally from Sierra Leone, had lived in the house for more than a year, said the Rev. Mike Busker, associate pastor at the United Brethren church. Busker said Sinnah had moved from a congregation in Philadelphia to help the Brooklyn Park church with outreach efforts. Sinnah took over as pastor of the small church of about 25 members in May 2014.

Tuesday, sitting in the gathering room of the church on Hilltop Road hours after the fire, Busker quoted Romans 8:28 as members made breakfast for those who turned out to help. "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose," he said.

Busker's wife, Linda, said she and her husband had come to know the Sinnah family well. She recalled Sundima, known to friends as "Sunny," as an outgoing teenager.

"He played the organ," she said. "Every Sunday I'd go up to him after offering and say 'I need my hug.'"

Sundima was a student at North County High School, and a candlelight vigil was held in front of the school Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, classmates dropped off flowers at the site of the fire. "I didn't believe it. I didn't think it was real," said Ashley Bailey, 17.

Anne Arundel County schools spokesman Bob Mosier said Sundima was an "incredibly popular" student, well liked by students and staff. He said school counselors and psychologists will be available to help students and faculty deal with grief.

Fire Department officials said the blaze remains under investigation. Officials believe it started in a back bedroom and was discovered by the older son, but late Tuesday officials were still working to pinpoint the cause. Damage was estimated at $125,000.

Ashley Riley, who lives a few doors down from the home, said she saw the fire. "The whole back area, it was nothing but flames," she said.

Advertisement

Patty Rickman said Sinnah was outside the home shouting that his wife and child were still inside when her brother ran across the street and into the burning house. That's the type of person her brother was, she said — acting to help without thinking of himself. The family said Chris Rickman leaves behind two sons.

"Hug the ones you love," Patty Rickman said, "because you never know about tomorrow."

Jack Rickman said when he ran after his son, he did not hear any smoke alarms going off inside of the home.

Fire officials said they believe alarms were operative in a newer section of the house, but not in the older part of the residence. Officials said firefighters will be in the Brooklyn Park neighborhood Saturday morning to assist residents checking smoke alarms and to install alarms for those who don't have them.

Late Tuesday the state fire marshal's office said 13 fire deaths have been recorded in 2015 — a 30 percent increase over the same 41-day period last year. Nine of those deaths have occurred in Anne Arundel County.

Tuesday's fire came about three weeks after a four-alarm fire tore through an Annapolis area mansion and killed homeowners Don and Sandra Pyle and four grandchildren. The Jan. 19 fire on Childs Point Road was caused by a faulty electrical outlet which ignited a Christmas tree, fire officials said.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement