- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2007

BALTIMORE — A woman who died along with her son and a niece in an apartment building fire early Saturday was an Army veteran who recently learned she was pregnant, her husband said.

Raheem Muhammad, 28; her son, Royelle Riley, who would have turned 10 yesterday; and her niece, 7-year-old Markia Summerfield, were killed in the fire, which began shortly before 3 a.m. Saturday. Baltimore City Fire Department officials confirmed the victims’ identities.

“She was a wonderful person,” Roy Riley, Mrs. Muhammad’s husband, told WMAR-TV. He said his son, Royelle, was doing well in school and “was going to be a running back or a wide receiver.”

“I just wish it was me instead of them,” he said.

Mr. Riley and Mrs. Muhammad’s 7-year-old daughter, Messiah, were rescued from the apartment by neighbors, but heavy smoke blocked further rescue efforts, Mr. Riley’s mother, Gladys Ward, told the Baltimore Sun.

Mrs. Muhammad left the active duty Army two years ago after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Riley said his wife had just learned she was pregnant with their child.

The fire consumed three apartments in a vertical row in the northwest Baltimore building, which had 12 units, 11 of them occupied, city fire officials said.

The building’s other residents were able to escape on their own, and nobody else was seriously injured. The victims were found in a basement apartment.

There were no working smoke detectors in the apartment, said Chief Kevin Cartwright, a fire department spokesman.

Authorities were investigating the cause of the blaze. Chief Cartwright said it was not clear whether the victims had a chance to escape.

“If you wake up, and there’s already a smoke-filled environment, as soon as you sense something and wake up, your first breath is going to asphyxiate you,” he said.

City officials and the Red Cross are working to find housing for the displaced residents.

One firefighter twisted his ankle while battling the two-alarm fire and was taken to a hospital for treatment, Chief Cartwright said.

The fire occurred less than two months after a fast-moving blaze in a row house in the East Baltimore-Midway neighborhood killed eight persons, five of them children. Two others were seriously injured in the May 22 fire, which city officials have said was likely caused by careless smoking.

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