NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. -- Levone and Crystals Lucas left Newark, New Jersey to try and make a better life for their family. The challenge with moving was always finding a landlord willing and able to accommodate all 16 of them. It was in Niagara Falls they found a house big enough to make a home this past May.
“We're always with our kids, because we have a large number of kids, rehearsed an evacuation plan. It's just that this happened...it happened too fast,” said Levone Lucas.
Fifteen of their 16-member family were home when the fire started late Saturday night: The two parents, 11 of their 12 kids, and two grandchildren.
Firefighters say cooking was left unattended, and the family says electricity in their house was faulty. Ultimately, it was their 18-year-old son Isaiah who smelled smoke and woke everyone up. Together with the help of his brother Matthew, they got as many people as they could out of the South Avenue house.
The couple’s second youngest child, 7-year old Hannah, is the only one who didn't make it out.
“I know I lost my baby, but we could have lost everybody,” Crystal Lucas said through tears. “And I thank God for what I have.”
Crystal Lucas remembers her daughter as the only of their children who resembled their deceased grandmother. Hannah also survived open heart surgery, but tragically, not the fire.
Levone Lucas, who is also a pastor, says Hannah was particularly affectionate last week.
“Yesterday she brought me something to eat. She brought my glass and she filled it up with ice, and I told her what kind of soda I wanted, and she brought it to me. I had no idea that that would the last time that I would ever see my child alive again,” he said.
Levone and Crystal have been married 30 years. All 12 kids were theirs. Even though it’s been tough financially, they love their big family, but now have to cope with having one less.
“Even though she's gone from this life, she'll always be a blessing to us,” Levone said.
Levone is a Pastor with Morning Star Church of God in Christ in Niagara Falls. That church will handle any donations that come in, and it's located on 21st Street. Their surviving kids range in age from 6 years old to 29, some of whom have disabilities. The have six boys, five surviving girls, and two grandchildren.
They're in a hotel through the weekend courtesy of the Red Cross, but soon they'll need money to find a new home that can accommodate all of them.
The fire caused an estimated $45,000 worth of damage.