2 children dead, 7 others hurt in Overland Park apartment fire

Posted at 4:40 AM, Aug 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-16 19:09:08-04

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Two children, ages 3 and 5 years old, died in an overnight fire just before 2:30 a.m. at the Colonial Gardens Apartments in Overland Park. Seven others, including their mother, were injured.

The family confirmed that the children are five-year-old Henry Mendoza-Carter Jr. and three-year-old Alexis Mendoza-Carter.

Alexis and Henry Mendoza-Carter were tragically killed in an apartment fire early Tuesday morning in Overland Park, Kansas.

The young girl and her older brother apparently became trapped in a multi-unit fire in the 8800 block of Broadmoor. The fire led some residents to throw themselves out windows and caused others to brave burning staircases to reach safety.

Crews from the Overland Park and Leawood Fire Departments responded and soon called a second alarm when they learned there were people trapped inside. When crews arrived, they saw heavy smoke and fire coming from the front and back of the two-story apartment building.

Paramedics treated burn patients outside as firefighters began to search for victims and fight the flames.

Overland Park Fire Department spokesman Jason Rhodes said the mother who lost her children in the fire suffered minor burns and smoke inhalation during her escape.

The man who rushed down a fiery stairwell to get outside suffered serious burns as he made his descent. Also among those injured were two additional children, two men with significant burns, and another with minor burns, said Rhodes. The conditions of many of the hospitalized victims remain unknown, but a source confirmed the mother who lost her children had been treated and released before noon.

Two firefighters received treatment for heat exhaustion. Both are expected to recover.

Emergency responders also treated a volunteer photographer for heat exhaustion. He was on scene taking photos for the county.

The identities of the victims were not immediately released.


Guillermo Flores was one of around 20 tenants who lost a home in the fire on Tuesday morning.

"My brother woke me up at two o'clock in the morning and told me about something going on outside with screaming and banging on doors," he explained. "He goes like, 'There's flames everywhere. We better hurry and get out of here.' I was shocked. I just tried to get out. I didn't even grab my phone."

Flores told 41 Action News that he ran out of his apartment with his daughter close by.

Moments later, he saw the parents of the children who died in the fire.

"I heard them screaming," he explained. "I let him know to go inside and I could help him, but he goes, 'It's too late.'"

The two children, who a family member said were 3 and 5 years old, were known around the neighborhood for playing with other children.

Azah Gillespy, who lives at the Colonial Gardens Apartments and has two children of the same ages, said the tragedy struck close to home.

"They were so sweet. They were caring. They loved everybody," she explained. "It breaks my heart. These could have been my children." 

Liz Richards was on the second story and woke to crackling and smoke outside her window. She said she didn't hear any alarms and immediately rushed to her 2-year-old son. Checking door handles for heat with the back of her hand, she made it down through the smoke and outside to safety.

"I saw a bunch of red and ashes flying, so I grabbed my baby," said Richards. "I never could’ve expected this. This is the most traumatic thing that’s ever happened to me. I just knew I needed to get out."

Moving forward, Flores said he would try and keep his spirits high as his family tried to find a new home.

"We'll start over. We have to do it," he explained. "I've got a daughter. I'm not going to let it (finding a new home) keep me down."

The fire took two hours to put out. Four apartment units were damaged, but all 12 units in the building were evacuated until safety inspectors could evaluate the structure.

The Red Cross was on the scene to assist 15 to 20 displaced residents. Overland Park fire officials said they hope to get them back in their homes as soon as is practical.


Overland Park Fire Chief Bryan Dehner said that crews arriving first on scene reported the closest working fire alarm was not in the building that caught fire, but a few buildings down the row. There were no sprinklers inside any of the apartments that caught fire, he said.


"It's my understanding we did not [hear any smoke detectors]," said Dehner. "The closest we heard was in the fourth building farthest removed from the fire, so we have a lot to figure out."

Dehner said crews had no issue accessing the building to fight the fire once they arrived.

"I’m very frustrated with the landlord," said Richards, in regard to the apparent lack of functional smoke alarms in her building. "I’m not exactly sure it’s her fault, but I’m very frustrated."

The building's most recent inspection report from Overland Park Fire Department's prevention division cites an issue with the structure's water tanks but marks it as resolved as of June 2017. There was no mention of smoke alarm issues on this report.

The apartment complex is managed by NFI Management Company. A spokesperson said it's the responsibility of the tenants to make sure the smoke alarms in their units work.

The 41 Action News investigators pulled an inspection report conducted by the city of Overland Park in May. It shows there were no major issues at Colonial Gardens. However, a spokesperson for the city said inspectors don't inspect each individual unit. Instead, the spokesperson said the apartment complex submits documentation confirming that each unit has a fire alarm that's in working order.

Meanwhile, several tenants told 41 Action News their alarms don't work and haven't for some time. 

The cause of the fire would be the primary focus for investigators moving forward in the light of day, fire officials said. The fire appears to have started on the first floor, but the exact cause wasn't immediately known.

According to the 41 Action News archives, this was Overland Park's first fatal fire since September 2014 when a house fire near Metcalf and Johnson Drive took the life of a 74-year-old man. Fire officials said at the time there appeared to be no working smoke alarms in the home.