Sugar Land’s mom shares unhappiness, recollections after the fireplace whereas the freeze kills her three youngsters and mom
After playing cards and hanging out by the fireplace on Monday, the tired family fell asleep, brushed their teeth, and went to bed as the Houston area descended on one of the coldest nights.
The family home in Sugar Land, like millions of others across the Lone Star state, had no power.
Eight year old Edison went into his 11 year old sister Olivia’s room, which had bunk beds. The children’s grandmother, Loan Le, was planning to sleep with the youngest 5-year-old Colette. And the children’s mother, 41-year-old Jackie Nguyen, went to her room.
These are the last moments Nguyen remembers over the night.
Around 2 a.m., Sugar Land firefighters responded to a fire reported by a neighbor who found the family home on fire, said Doug Adolph, a city and department spokesman. The three children and Le died. Nguyen and a friend were taken to hospital for treatment for injuries such as smoke inhalation and burns.
“All I know is that I woke up in the hospital,” said Nguyen on Sunday.
To commemorate the Nguyen children, visit their Go Fund Me.
Almost a week after the fire, Adolph said there were no updates to the investigation into the cause of the fire. The family tried to keep warm with a fireplace, according to their social media accounts, Adolph said.
“Obviously they were trying to stay warm,” Adolph said at the time. “We can’t say that was the cause. We just think we know they used a fireplace.”
In the days since the fatal fire, Nguyen said she missed everything about her children. Recently she missed driving her to school. And at 4pm she missed seeing her come home.
“Most of all, I think what I’ll miss is just seeing them grow into these amazing people that I knew would be,” she said.
A few years ago, when Nguyen was going to work with Colette on the day Olivia’s birthday was, the excitement filled the oldest child.
“Oh my god,” Nguyen remembered her firstborn saying. “I will have a twin sister.”
Olivia had matured since then and developed an intelligence and interest in a variety of topics for an 11-year-old: the recent elections, history, the law, and activism. She believed in accepting all people, said her mother.
And sometimes she picked up nuances on TV shows even before her mother.
“I just felt like she was turning this important corner in life when it came to character development,” said Nguyen. “I just knew that she would just be this amazing person who would add so much to the world, and I feel not only a sense of loss for my daughter, but a sense of loss for the world and for society that she didn’t have a chance to do anything meaningful with her life. “
The boy was already looking for others.
She baked Santa cinnamon rolls on Christmas Eve, based on the logic – since Olivia was 4 years old – that the old man might get tired of eating cookies. Plus, it could help make their home a memorable one.
Olivia, an adventurous eater, once spoke of maybe becoming a food critic or traveling the world for a TV show. Almost two weeks ago, on her mother’s birthday, she tried making a fried egg sandwich for breakfast.
In the meantime, Edison, “trapped in the middle of two girls,” as Nguyen put it, did not appear to have any middle child syndrome. As the only boy in the house, he had some kind of fame, said Nguyen.
Active and he and Nguyen started running together last year. He also learned to ride a bicycle on two wheels.
He was mildly autistic and loved handicrafts, said Nguyen. He would draw his family as well as abstract art. Some kind of obsessive personality guided his passions. If a line on a drawing didn’t come out the way he wanted, he would tear it up and try again, his mother said. He immersed himself completely in his interest du jour.
Within a few months, art and architecture aroused his curiosity. Everyone he met would have a series of questions, Nguyen said.
Do you like modern art?
What kind of art do you like?
What kind of home do you like
I like houses with natural light. Do you like houses with natural light?
“He was super smart,” said Nguyen. “Just had a thirst for knowledge.”
Though watching TV or filming with him could be a little annoying to his sisters with such an insatiable thirst.
And Colette, the youngest, would speak to anyone who got engaged, Nguyen said. She loved to sing and enjoyed performing for others.
Her charisma exceeded her years. And as the youngest, she refused to be bullied.
“People just loved her,” said Nguyen. “I was sure that she would do something amazing with herself too.”
And she loved others back.
When the family got a gold scribble over the vacation, Colette looked forward to serving as the older sister. She fed the dog and tried to carry the fast growing pup for as long as possible. Sometimes, perhaps when she was making everyone else in the house tired of talking, Nguyen speculated, she turned to her new younger, furry relative.
“Give the dog orders or just sit there and pet it,” said Nguyen. “I’m literally telling him about your day.”
Sometimes her only spectator was her grandmother Le.
Le was a refugee from Vietnam who moved first to Kansas and then California with Nguyen’s father before settling in the Houston area in 1994. She loved the three children and helped Nguyen make careers by helping them, she said.
She picked up the kids at school or went shopping and spent time with all three of them. Olivia would ask about life in Vietnam. Edison would show her his drawings. And Colette provided entertainment. Nguyen said her father died 8 years ago which was a tremendous loss for Le. But the children helped.
“She loved my children so much. So much, ”said Nguyen. “She loved all of her art. She loved everything that they did. She kept everything. “
Nguyen expects to complete an MBA program at Rice University this spring. She attributed her mother’s support for her career. Since the fire, her Rice community has launched an online fundraiser for Nguyen and the children’s father, Nathan. Nguyen said she hopes to use the money to honor her children, either by creating a foundation or by making contributions to existing charities.
People’s gestures helped, said Nguyen.
“You feel like you are drowning and you feel like you just can’t breathe,” said Nguyen. But the deeds of those who helped – even the kind words here and there – were like gasping for breath. “It really speaks to the heart of Houston, honestly – our ability to mobilize and bring the community together.”
On Valentine’s Day, as the winter storm approached the Houston area, Nguyen and the children were watching the Titanic. Olivia hated the movie after reading a few things about it online. Nguyen wanted to prove that it was a “great” movie.
They had to stop the film several times when Edison questioned plot holes that Nguyen had never thought of before.
And why is a ship being maneuvered one way or another?
“Can you just see it?” Nguyen remembered his sisters asking back, “Can we just watch?”
He stopped himself from looking too much, said Nguyen, and they looked through. Everyone loved the movie.
The next day, Le passed early since waking up without electricity. She spent the day in the house, which still had electricity, with the children and Nguyen.
At around 5 p.m. they also lost power there.
“I told everyone they had to get their battery power in their devices,” said Nguyen. “We wanted a means of communication.”
Olivia had planned a Zoom call with friends from a summer camp she’d gone to in New York state.
Could she use her battery, she begged.
Yes, Nguyen said to her.
They burned the fireplace to keep warm, hung out and spent a lot of time.
Time, said Nguyen, they valued.
As hours passed and the children tried to teach their grandma a game of cards, they all got tired.
Finally they all went to sleep.