Six-year-old Brex Whalen was a sweet, outgoing little boy with a love for football, wrestling and fishing.
And Brex had a big extended family who loved him. The Wellsville, Kan., boy had just started attending a church in Gardner that he seemed to enjoy, said aunt Amber Crowl. He adored playing with his cousins, especially Crowl’s 7-year-old son, Ellis.
“He was always a joy to be around,” Crowl said Wednesday.
Whalen died Tuesday night after a fire broke out in the living room of the rented home where he lived with his mother, Leighann Morris, and little sister, Kiptynn Morris. The fire engulfed the property. His stepfather, Jeff Morris, is an active-duty military officer serving in South Korea, Crowl said.
Emergency crews were called Tuesday night to the home on Walnut Street, said Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office spokesman Kevin Doel. The Wellsville Fire District, Wellsville Police Department, Franklin County sheriff’s department and other area fire departments responded to the blaze.
A working smoke detector outside Leighann Morris’ bedroom alerted her to the fire, and Morris and Kiptynn, 3, were able to escape from the house through a window.
Brex was unable to escape and was pronounced dead at Overland Park Regional Medical Center later that night.
A Franklin County sheriff’s deputy also cut his hand while breaking out a window during the fire, according to Doel.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation by the Kansas fire marshal.
“My favorite memories of him are his contagious smile and how much he loved coming to my house and playing with my boys,” Crowl said. “The last time I saw him was for our Christmas celebration. He and my boys had so much fun running around together.”
Crowl said she had visited Morris, who suffered smoke inhalation after trying to go back for her son, in the intensive care unit Wednesday. Jeff Morris has been granted emergency leave and is expected to return to Kansas on Thursday.
Brex is also survived by his father, Ryan Whalen; stepmom, Jessica Whalen; and stepsisters, Jazlene, 7, and Paisley, 2.
A GoFundMe account has been created to help the family pay for medical bills, funeral expenses and the cost of their lost possessions.
A memorial fund has also been set up through the Mid America Bank in Wellsville. All donations, which can be dropped off at the Wellsville location, will go to the family.
Brex Whalen Memorial Fund
c/o Mid America Bank
P.O. Box 671
1008 Poplar St.
Wellsville, KS 66092