Sunday night, Tonya Gunthrop went over to play with her next-door neighbor's 1-year-old twins.
"They crawled and stood up," she recalled.
Yesterday morning, the 29-year-old East Baltimore woman and her brother tried in vain to rescue the twins and their 3-year-old brother from a deadly fire in the children's third-floor rowhouse apartment the 300 block of E. Biddle St.
"We went all the way up to the third floor but we couldn't get to where they were at. There was too much smoke," Ms. Gunthrop said yesterday afternoon.
One baby, Sean Stern, was killed and his twin sister, Lasean, and their older brother, Robert, were critically injured by thick smoke.
Police and fire officials said the blaze erupted after the older child stuffed paper into an electric space heater and placed the heater in an overstuffed chair.
The children's mother, Sharrona Johnson, 31, was shopping at a nearby market when the blaze erupted, said Lt. Earl R. DeVincentz of the Fire Investigation Bureau.
Ms. Johnson became extremely distraught when she learned about the blaze and returned to the house, the lieutenant added.
Ms. Johnson told authorities that she had left the children in the care of a male baby sitter while she went to the market. But the man had not been located last night and police said they were conferring with the city state's attorney office about the possibility of filing charges in the case.
The fire was reported shortly before 10 a.m. when smoke was spotted pouring from a window in the narrow rowhouse, fire officials said. Firefighters reached the children by forcing their way through a locked rear bedroom door.
The fire was extinguished within minutes of firefighters' arrival and property damage was estimated at $3,500, officials said.
The twins were taken to the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Sean died shortly after arriving at the hospital and his sister was reported in critical condition last night.
Robert was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was reported in critical condition last night.
All of the children experienced severe smoke inhalation, fire officials said.
Ms. Gunthrop said she was roused from bed by a neighbor pounding on her door yesterday morning. Spotting the smoke, she said, she and her brother, Douglas Holmes, rushed next door but could not reach the children.
By the time they retreated to the ground floor, she said, firefighters had arrived.
"It hurt me when they brought the children out on the stretcher. . . . I wanted to go in there and get them," she said.
Ms. Johnson has two other children who lived with her but they were apparently at school, said Ms. Gunthrop.
The neighbor said she didn't know much about the mother.
Efforts to reach Ms. Johnson last night were unsuccessful.