Gino Cima raced to a house as it was engulfed by flames in rural Kentucky, frantically trying to save his nephew, his nephew's pregnant fiancee and five young children inside. But he was too late: He found his nephew's body near a side door, laying in a way that suggested the man had been trying to rescue the sleeping children.
Before coming upon his nephew's body and that of the man's fiancee, he said he screamed to firefighters: "There's babies in that house!"
Cima said Sunday that he arrived within minutes of hearing of the Saturday morning blaze.
"When I opened the screen door, she was laying at the door with her head to the door. And I pulled her out," he said, speaking softly. "And about 2 feet from her laying the other way was (my nephew). And I went in and got him and pulled him out. But they was done gone. There wasn't nothing I could do."
He said he then raced to the front of the house to try to save the children.
"And that's when they had the five babies laying out in the front yard," he said.
The Knox County coroner and state police have not yet identified the victims, but family members said the five children killed ranged in age from 10 months to 3 years.
Relatives said the nephew's fiancée was the mother of three of the children who died. The other two children were siblings and friends of the family, visiting for the night for a sleepover, the relatives said.
Officials said the cause of the fire was under investigation. Arson investigators were at the scene Saturday, but officials said no foul play was suspected. State police said Sunday that no more information on the fire would be released until Monday.
Laura Cima, Gino's wife, said they owned the single-story, wood-frame house that the couple was renting. She said the family had recently moved in and were busy painting and getting carpets cleaned. They shared a bedroom in the back of the house, and Laura Cima said the children were sleeping in a front room Saturday morning. She described an unused back bedroom where she and her husband saw flames pouring out of a window when they arrived Saturday.
Gray is a few miles outside Corbin, a city of about 7,000 in the foothills of Appalachia near the Daniel Boone National Forest and the borders of Tennessee and Virginia.
Shannon Disney, a sister-in-law of one of the victims, said the house that burned on Shady Brook Lane is surrounded by homes of family members — so many that the area is nicknamed "Disneyland." She said a relative who drove past the house at 7:45 a.m. noticed nothing unusual, but another who lives nearby saw smoke coming from it around 9 a.m.
Disney described the couple as devoted to the children, with their lives organized around bedtime and bath time. She said the woman had just gotten an ultrasound, and the couple was excited to plan for the birth, though they didn't know yet whether it was a boy or girl.
Disney called the house alive with kids, with the couple regularly pulling children on a wagon, pushing a tire swing or playing hide-and-seek. On Sunday, children's toys and a stroller were seen outside the house as a stream of people stopped by.
"Everybody is very heartbroken over it. Everybody knows the Disney family," said Amy Weddle, who was working Sunday at J&G Market, a popular convenience store where the couple and the children frequently stopped to buy candy and milk. "They're always good to everybody."
Weddle put a jar on the counter Sunday seeking donations to help pay for burial expenses. It had four $1 dollar bills in it Sunday morning.