ST. JOHN TWP. — The 12-year-old who died in a house fire early Sunday is being remembered by her family as a vibrant girl who loved life and was always seen with a smile on her face.
Family confirmed the identity of the child who died at a home in the 9100 block of State Line Road as LeAira Rogers, of Merrillville.
“She was intelligent, a kind soul who was the forgiving one in the family. She felt that everyone deserved second, third, fourth chances,” stepfather Jordell Prather said. “She was a good kid, a good girl.”
Prather, who has been married to Rogers’ mother for seven years, called his stepdaughter a “rare child.” He remembers her as an artistic child who loved to draw and paint and had a passion for reading.
Father Tony Rogers, of Sauk Village, said his “heart is completely crushed."
“It’s very hard for me,” Rogers said. “She was a bubbly young lady, very energetic. A good student who laughed all the time.
“She’s leaving behind two younger sisters. ... This is just really hard for us.”
Prather, who spoke on behalf of LeAira Rogers’ mother, said his wife needs some time to mourn the loss of their daughter before she could comment.
“Right now is a terrible time. Any time you lose a child is terrible. We are just trying to find a way to move forward and take it moment by moment,” Prather said.
“There is no playbook for a situation like this. Situations like this shouldn’t happen.”
A GoFundMe Page has been created for the family to help pay for Rogers’ funeral expenses. The fundraiser was posted Monday and has raised about $1,500 of its $10,000 goal.
Nicole Hanson, of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Realty, created the page to help the family with funeral expenses for Rogers. All the proceeds will go directly to Prather, who has been a member of the real estate team for more than a year.
“When something like this happens, everyone wants to do something,” Hanson said. “We are doing this to help the family. We want to stay respectful of what they have going on, but show that we care and will help. It’s sad that this happened.”
The Lake County coroner's office was dispatched to the scene at 7:05 a.m. and pronounced the child dead at 8:14 a.m., according to a news release. The cause of death is still pending. The coroner's office has not identified the child, but it conducted an autopsy Monday.
Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez said in a news release the child was found in the basement of the home that belonged to her grandparents.
Crews first responded to the scene about 6:30 a.m. to combat a residential structure fire with possible entrapment of children. Four occupants were in the house; they were later identified as two grandparents and two grandchildren, St. John Fire Chief Fred Willman said.
The grandmother and other grandchild were rescued from the house fire and taken to hospitals for treatment. As of Monday afternoon, Willman said the two are still in critical condition.
The fire took 2 ½ hours to put out, Willman said. Firefighters and equipment were provided by more than a dozen agencies.
The cause of the fire is still unknown as an investigation is ongoing. The Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Lake County Crime Scene Investigation Unit are investigating the case.
“The house is secure and the scene is closed. Investigators are gathering information from homeowners and working with the family,” Willman said. “We won’t know the cause until we can physically go back in for another evaluation.”
Concerns have been raised on whether the home had working smoke detectors. Willman said it’s impossible to determine if that were true.
“All I know about the fire alarms is they were not operational when we arrived,” he said. “When we got there, the fire was considerably through the roof."