Two ultimate acts of love have emerged from Friday’s fire in Buffalo’s Cold Spring neighborhood that now has claimed its second life.
Three-year-old Malachi Norman died over the weekend from injuries suffered in the Timon Street house fire that also killed his mother, 23-year-old Lequeisha Watkins, officials confirmed Monday.
Watkins had escaped from the burning home with her fiance and their 2-year-old son, but she apparently went back inside the burning home when she realized their older boy, Malachi, still was trapped there.
That was the first act of love, a mother risking – and losing – her own life to save her son’s.
The second came from the boy’s father, Berry L. Norman, believed to be 25.
Malachi Norman was declared brain-dead at 5:55 p.m. Saturday, but he was kept alive so his organs could be taken and given to other children, officials said.
“His father didn’t want him to die in vain,” Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. said Monday. “He wanted other children to have an opportunity to live.”
Berry Norman, while grieving for both his fiancee and older son, was so intent on having the boy’s organs passed on to others that he actually participated in the process by wheeling him to the operating-room door, officials said.
Five organs were taken from the little boy Sunday, authorities added.
“I’m just blown away by the capacity of this young man to do that, especially at his age,” Whitfield said of the young father. “To have the compassion for others to do that.”
Firefighters had pulled Malachi and his mother, Watkins, from a rear bedroom in their first-floor apartment at 174 Timon early Friday morning. Watkins died that afternoon, while Malachi was listed in extremely critical condition in Women & Children’s Hospital that day.
As word spread Monday about the young boy’s death, neighbors also marveled at the twin acts of love, from a mother racing back into her burning home and a father finding a way to keep his dying son’s memory alive.
Kevin Williams, 50, who lives around the corner and often mentored the young family, gasped and let out a quick shriek after hearing about Malachi’s death.
Then he talked about the young parents.
“That’s the ultimate price, and the ultimate love, to lay down your life to save another human being,” he said of Watkins, before turning to Berry Norman’s act. “What he did, that’s a miracle in and of itself, that he had the presence of mind to know that if his child’s life had been lost, at least it wouldn’t be in vain.”
Joe Hyla, who owns the house next door at 170 Timon, on Monday returned to the scene, east of Jefferson Avenue, between Dodge and Best streets.
With a strong smell of smoke still in the air, he looked up at what remains of the three houses, at 170, 174 and 176 Timon. The house in the middle has been reduced to charred rubble, with just a tiny piece of one wall still standing. The other two are burned-out shells, at least on the top floors, that also are expected to be demolished.
“The stuff I lost doesn’t really matter,” Hyla said. “We lost lives, and they were good neighbors.”
Hyla then learned about the young father’s decision to save his son’s organs.
“They were a close family,” Hyla said. “He wanted to keep the memories of his child alive, giving his organs to someone else. That’s very loving.”
The double loss also hit hard for Buffalo firefighters who had rescued two people, only to see them both ultimately die.
“We do a lot of this kind of work, not just in fires, but also EMS calls,” Whitfield pointed out. “A lot of times we can’t save people. We’re just human. Often we can’t resuscitate them, but we give it our best shot.”
Consolation may be hard to find, but the fire commissioner implied that at least the family knows that firefighters went into a burning home to give two people a chance to be saved.
“We helped the family in the loss of their loved ones,” he said. “We did everything we could do. That’s a comfort to them.
“At the end of the day, that’s all we can do.”