EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 22, 2012

Child was alone during mobile home fire

Mom, brother were across the street

By Alex Lippa

---- — LONDONDERRY — A 17-month-old boy was home alone when fire broke out in his family’s mobile home, killing him.

Garrett Grice was asleep in his crib, his mother across the street Thursday afternoon when a grease fire started and quickly spread throughout the home at 17 Norwich Place.

His mother, Jennell Shields, rushed across the street after learning her house was on fire — her young son inside.

She broke a window, but couldn’t get to her son, according to her mother, Lori DeRienzo.

“She smashed the window,” DeRienzo said. “She tried her hardest to get him out, but she just couldn’t get through it.”

Dozens of firefighters soon arrived at the scene, but Garrett succumbed to smoke inhalation, according to an autopsy conducted at the state medical examiner’s office yesterday.

Fire officials said another child had turned on the kitchen stove before he and his mother crossed the street to DeRienzo’s house while Garrett napped.

Shields was hiding Christmas presents at her mother’s house, DeRienzo said, wanting to keep the gifts a secret from her young children.

“It is like anybody has done,” DeRienzo said yesterday. “You take that moment when he’s taking a nap ...”

A FedEx driver alerted the women to the fire.

But it was too late.

No one is saying whether Garrett died in the home or at the hospital.

Shields, too, was taken to Parkland Medical Center for burns and cuts, but wasn’t admitted.

Yesterday, Shields was at her mother’s house in Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park, but was too distraught to speak.

DeRienzo said the window was “winterized” and her daughter couldn’t get through the plastic to reach her child. A neighbor, using a shovel, tried, too, but couldn’t get inside.

The fire apparently started after an older child turned on the gas stove, heating a pan filled with grease there.

But Shields didn’t notice.

Once the pan and its contents grew hot enough, it ignited and spread to numerous items piled near the stove, according to Londonderry fire Chief Kevin McCaffrie.

DeRienzo said Shields has two other sons, both under the age of 7. They are now staying with a relative. Shields has a fourth child who lives elsewhere, her mother said.

“I really have to watch out for them now,” DeRienzo said. “The kids were all so close and now we are trying to get the kids back to normal.”

Funeral arrangements had not been finalized as of yesterday afternoon, she said.

“It’s just a tragic loss,” DeRienzo said. “We’re just trying to cope and make sense of it all right now.”