Chuukese in Honolulu help family hit by fire
Leaders and members of the Chuukese community are offering their help to a family that lost a 5-year-old boy during a fire in Salt Lake.
John "Rex Boy" Ceasar died Wednesday of smoke inhalation in the fire that destroyed his family's home, according to a preliminary autopsy conducted yesterday.
Honolulu fire Capt. Frank Johnson said the fire started because a child was playing with a cigarette lighter in a back bedroom. John Ceasar was in another bedroom, fire officials said.
O'ahu's tight-knit community of people from Chuuk, a state in Micronesia, made plans to help the family with money and other donations.
"If they're from our community, we're not going to turn our back on them," said Akendo Onamwar, pastor of The First Chuukese Church of Honolulu.
"We come from an extended culture. That's the way things are at home," Onamwar said. "We live in a very, very closely knit society. That family is the core of the community, and without the family, things cannot go on. That's why we have to try our best to help out with whatever the problem may be."
Sisan Suda, a Chuukese member of Micronesians United, said the group will work to get donations to the family.
"It is a family-oriented society," Suda said. "We share things like food. ... We share our problems. If I have a problem, it becomes the community's problem. And everyone chips in to help."
Family members said John Ceasar enjoyed chasing his cousins through the bedrooms and hallways in his family's Salt Lake home and always laughed when he found one of them.
The 5-year-old was preparing to enter kindergarten next year. Now, his extended family mourns his death.
"It's really hard to understand," said Andrew Ceasar, 30, John's uncle. "It's really hard for me to say something about my nephew right now."
John Ceasar's mother, Atnes Ceasar, is in shock and trying to explain the boy's death to his older sister, Andrew Ceasar said.
The fire at 4411 Likini St. broke out at 2:20 p.m. Wednesday and was under control at about 2:45 p.m. At around 4 p.m., firefighters found the body of the child in one of the bedrooms.
When the fire started, 18 people were at home. The children had been in the living room shortly after 2 p.m., then dispersed and went running through the house.
Smoke filtered into the house, and the family thought a neighbor's home was on fire.
Then the carpet began to burn, and smoke and flames poured from one of the three bedrooms at the left rear of the home, said Kangichy Welle, Atnes Ceasar's uncle.
"It just happened instantaneously. The flames were already engulfing the rooms. They (the family) look and see some kids out of the room. They banged on the doors and yelled, but it was just impossible," said Welle, who lives in Kalihi but visited the home often. "All the family members are trying to figure out what happened. They're shocked. He's a very energetic little boy who liked to play games."
Family members slammed their fists on the walls of the bedroom and broke windows trying to get in, Welle said, but the flames beat them back.
Atnes Ceasar, Andrew Ceasar, Julio Willy and Francis Lorenzo are co-owners of the five-bedroom home, city records say.
Suda said it is because of their culture of community, plus the high cost of housing in Hawai'i, that many Micronesians, including Chuukese, live with extended family in one house.
"They share food; they own property together," he said. "There is no homeless in Micronesia. If you don't have a house, people will house you. If you don't have a close relative, then the community will take that responsibility to take care of you."
Maria Narruhn, also of Micronesians United, said many Micronesians come to Hawai'i with little, so it's only natural that most would need help with shelter and other needs at first.
Welle said the 29-member extended family worked hard for two years to make the monthly mortgage payments.
"They're scraping the bottom of their resources," said Welle. "Now that disaster strikes, they have to start all over. All the help they can get they would appreciate."
The Red Cross is assisting the family, which will stay in a hotel for three days.
A Red Cross mental health volunteer was sent to the fire scene to provide counseling along with three volunteer caseworkers. The Red Cross provided 31 family members with emergency shelter, food, clothing and bedding, according to a news release.
Teddy bears also were provided to comfort the 15 children living there, who ranged from 4 months to 13 years old.
John Ceasar is O'ahu's second fire fatality of the year.Staff writer Mary Vorsino contributed to this report.