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Weight of McHenry tragedy looms as investigation continues

Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

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McHENRY – Save for the occasional curious passerby, things have quieted at the scene of a McHenry house fire that took the life of 12-year-old Dayana Garcia on Friday morning.

A half-melted laundry basket filled with charred children’s shoes sits at the edge of the fire’s destruction. A twin mattress twists up from atop the pile of blackened rubble. Bouquets of flowers and a pink teddy bear are perched on a shrinking pile of snow near the family’s mailbox.

As investigators continue searching for the cause and origin of the fire that killed Garcia, those close to the girl described as quiet and sweet, with an “innocent soul,” dealt with the weight of the sudden tragedy. Scattered fundraising efforts had started to take shape, with several neighbors coming forward to collect clothing and household items. Organizers have set up a website to collect online donations, and a Facebook page to centralize all fundraising efforts.

Garcia’s parents, two younger brothers, 4 and 6, and one older brother, 18, are staying in a local hotel for the time being.

At Parkland Middle School, where Garcia was enrolled in seventh grade, teachers discussed the tragedy with students, and a handful of Garcia’s closest peers met with social workers. Several students were visibly affected, but sought and received comfort from friends and teachers, said Andrea Kosmicki, a teacher at Parkland.

“They were really strong and hugging each other, and positive and laughing by the end of the day,” Kosmicki said. “It really shows you how middle schoolers can turn things around. You’re nervous because they’re going to be upset, but they really amazed me today.”

Parkland staff met in the morning before school to prepare for how to deal with the tragedy. Today, the school will turn its attention toward planning a fundraiser for Garcia’s family, which could include silent and live auctions and come together as early as this weekend, organizer Wayne Jett said.

Monday was about the kids.

“Our goal for today was to be there for our students and to work through all the situations,” said Mike Adams, the school’s principal. “For a tragic situation like this, I take my hat off to all the staff here because it was a very smooth day, and we made it through.”

A joint investigation of the McHenry Township Fire Protection District and the state fire marshal could conclude later this week, and more details are expected to emerge surrounding the circumstances that led to the fire and Garcia’s death. Investigators are speaking with the family this week.

The home was engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived Friday morning at about 1:30 a.m. The roof and sections of the floor collapsed, forcing firefighters to attack the fire from the outside, Deputy Chief Rudy Horist said.

It’s unknown whether the house contained working fire detectors.

Investigators have to confirm the detail, but neighbors have said the family escaped through a second-story window.

Neighbors said Monday that the family of Dayana Garcia stood barefoot, pleading with firefighters to enter the home before retreating to a van to watch their engulfed house from two driveways over.

Horist couldn’t say how long it was before firefighters entered the home and confirmed Garcia dead, but disputed earlier reports that it had been a matter of hours. The home was considered a total loss.

Kosmicki, who said Monday she fielded questions from Garcia’s peers throughout the day, remembered the El Salvador-born girl as a sweetheart who was loved by all. Garcia had an interest in the human body and dreamed of being a doctor, Kosmicki said.

“She tried so hard with her schoolwork and gleamed when she would do so well,” she said. “She worked so well with her peers. She was just an innocent soul.”

Garcia also had an eye for fashion that Kosmicki noted during “dress like a teacher” day.

“I always laughed, because I’m like, ‘Dayana, are you dressed like me today?’ She’s like, ‘Yeah,’” Kosmicki remembered. “I’m like, ‘Well you look better than I do, so maybe I should take tips from you.’”

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