10-year-old boy killed in Reading fire 'loved to love,' family friends recall

Fire claims boy's life

READING, Pa. - A 10-year-old Reading boy killed in a burning home had just celebrated his birthday on Christmas Day. His family said the death is a sobering lesson for parents everywhere.

"He was a happy little boy," said family friend Milagros Maldonado. "He loved to love; he loved to be loved."

Because of his birthday, Jesus Velazquez's mother named him after the Holy Savior. The child died in a fast-moving fire Friday afternoon on Elm Street in Reading.

"I can't believe that he's really gone," said Kieairre Brandon, who lives next door. "I keep thinking I'm going to wake up and I'm going to see him."

Velazquez was a third grader at 13th and Green Elementary, according to his family. Neighbors described him as a good kid who shoveled their snow and loved to sing.

As for the fire, the Reading fire marshal has ruled it an accident. Maldonado said it's an accident all parents can learn from.

"Jesus was probably playing with a lighter," she said. "He set something on fire, ran up the stairwell."

The fire began in a bedroom belonging to Velazquez's sister, according to his mother, Hedi Velazquez. She said the boy ran upstairs to the third floor, where he got trapped. Neighbors desperately tried to save him.

"I just couldn't get in the window; there was too much smoke," said Richard Schmeer, who lives on the other side of the Velazquez family. "There was just too much smoke in the window; there was nothing I could do."

Another tragic lesson? Jesus' family believes the smoke detector on that floor did not have batteries because the boy took them out earlier.

"Jesus had the habit of taking out the batteries to put in his toys," said Milagros.

What's worse, Milgaros said the fire extinguisher their landlord gave them malfunctioned.

"Dad tried his best, and their fire extinguisher malfunctioned," she said. "He pulled the pin and it didn't work."

Now, they are looking for a new home and struggling to bury their Christmas miracle.

"We just celebrated his birthday and his mom's wedding," said Maldonado. "And then now this."

The Berks County coroner conducted an autopsy Saturday, but said more tests are needed to determine exactly how he died. Those could take up to six weeks.

The Velazquez family said they lost everything in the fire. The American Red Cross is helping them with temporary shelter, but a memorial fund has now been set-up for their long-term needs. You can donate to the "Milgaros Maldonado for Jesus Velazquez" fund at Metro Bank. Clothing may be dropped off at the Little Brown Jug at 900 Lancaster Ave.

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