Two days in a row, firefighters in the Bronx and then Brooklyn made the same, sickening discovery: dying children lying not far from fire escapes that had been locked or barricaded to keep out criminals.
"It's hard to fathom," said Sharon Gamache, executive director of the Massachusetts-based Learn Not to Burn Foundation.But such tragedies are becoming more common in big cities and small towns alike.
From 1980 to 1985, fire deaths in homes unwittingly booby-trapped with anti-crime devices - window bars, gates, grilles - averaged fewer than one a year nationwide. From 1986 to 1991, the average rose to 16 a year.
Gamache said the rising fatalities reflect the increasing use of such devices amid rising fear of crime.
In 1993, window bars in a Bruce, Miss., apartment sealed the fate of a grandmother and seven children, ages 2 months to 15 years. "We could hear everybody inside screaming," said a relative, Sonny Hall. "The kids were reaching their hands through the windows. There wasn't anything we could do."
And in Detroit last year, seven children died in a fire in which the oldest, a 9-year-old girl, had apparently tried frantically to lead the others to safety beyond barred windows, steel doors and a furniture barricade.
Gamache said such horror stories don't have much effect on people who have had personal experience with crime and are convinced a fire could never happen to them.
Gamache said it's unrealistic to expect people to stop barring their homes against criminals.