OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- "They were just full of life, ever so happy and looked at me as their big brother. It's just so hard to believe they're gone. I didn't get to say goodbye or hug them," said a sobbing 17-year-old Johnny Perez.
A stunned Perez and his family cannot believe his cousins, Alexis Carter who celebrated her third birthday in July, and her 5-year-old brother Henry Carter, Junior, who lost a tooth Monday and was excited about starting kindergarten, are both now tragically gone.
"I just feel like I have a hole in my heart and it's just there. It's so sad that this happened to them. They were full of life, loved playing with their cousins and playing outside," said Perez with tears streaming down his face.
Investigators say early Tuesday morning a fire started in the Carter family's apartment near 88th and Broadmoor in Overland Park and then quickly spread throughout their entire building.
"My grandma and my aunt, the kids' mother, are both taking it extremely hard," said Johnny Perez.
"We have a huge, close-knit family. I just feel so sorry for my sister, my niece and our family," said Chila Perez-Thompson, the children's great-aunt.
Family members say their mom suffered smoke inhalation.
During an exclusive interview with FOX 4's Robert Townsend they also said Alexis and Henry's dad, their 8-month-old brother and 8-year-old sister were not seriously hurt.
"All I can hope is that our family will find comfort knowing both children are now up there with the Lord," said Chila Perez-Thompson.
Meantime, firefighters said they did not hear any smoke detectors when they were putting out the fire and that's why investigators are still trying to figure that out as well as the cause of the deadly fire.
A spokesman for the Overland Park Fire Department also says the apartment building was last inspected in May, and we're told it passed inspection.