Raytown mom hailed a hero for trying to help others escape apartment fire

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RAYTOWN, Mo. -- A Raytown family is mourning the loss of another family member following Sunday’s deadly fire that destroyed a 3-story building at Somerset Village Apartments.

Authorities announced Tuesday that 59-year-old Cherri Roberts has died from her injuries, just one day after her 4-year-old grandson, Jeremiah Roberts, was pronounced dead.

Cherri’s other two grandchildren, 6-year-old Jacob and 18-month-old Ja’Bin, both made it out alive – but Ja’Bin remains in critical condition at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Fire officials said Tuesday that one young mother tried to save the Roberts family. They’re now calling 18-year-old Esmeralda Pineta a “hero” for getting her own family out safely, then returning to warn her neighbors of the fire.

“I was telling everybody that there`s kids in there and they didn’t open the door,” Pineta said Tuesday, holding back tears as she talked about knocking on the Roberts’ door.

Esmeralda, a mother of two, was up in the middle of the night with her newborn son when she smelled smoke, and then saw it fill up the hallways.

“The first thing I thought was to go get [my son] from the room and just run out to the hallway and tell everybody what was going on,” she recalled.

She began knocking on each door as she tried to wake her neighbors.

“By the time I was trying to go downstairs, the lights turned off,” she said. “And when I was upstairs, the fire alarms went off and the place was practically already filled with smoke by then.”

One door she knocked on belonged to little Jeremiah and his family, but there was no answer.

“They probably couldn’t get out,” she said, wiping away tears. “If just there was a little bit more time, or it wouldn’t have spread that quickly, they could’ve gotten out.”

Later Esmeralda heard Jeremiah’s family tell reporters that he and his brothers were scared to leave the apartment – making her wish she could’ve done more.

“If I knew, if I would’ve had a chance to think,” she said, “I could’ve told them that they were safe and to open the door and I could’ve helped them get out.”

But fire investigators believe she did all she could and they're calling her a hero for trying to help others escape.

“When she realized that the building was on fire, instead of just grabbing her family and running out the front door, she went to every door in that apartment building and knocked,” said John Ham, press information officer for the ATF, which is now leading the investigation.

“You hear stories like that, and it just kind of, even though this is a tragic situation, there are absolute heroes that come out every one of these fires. So without her doing that, we certainly could be having a completely different discussion about how many lives were lost.”

She’s a young mother who is now feeling more thankful than ever.

“We didn’t have anything [after the fire], but we had our lives, you know?” she said.

A congregation whose church is near the burned apartment building is collecting donations for the 11 families displaced by Sunday's fire. Organizers say the families need everything -- from clothes and shoes to kitchen items, cleaning supplies, even canned goods.

They are even looking for beds or sleeping bags, and bedding. Donations can be dropped off at Raytown Christian Church, located at 6108 Blue Ridge Boulevard, or the leasing office at the Somerset Apartments at East 60th and Raytown Road.