South KC fire that killed father, two children thought to be accidental

Shyla Greve tried desperately early Wednesday to get past the firefighters who blocked her from getting into her burning home.

She knew her family was inside.

Greve was back in the afternoon, surrounded by friends who joined her in mourning the deaths of her husband, Christopher Greve, 31, and their children, Donnica Runnels, 7, and Brinton Greve, 2.

Police said the fire in south Kansas City appeared to be an accident. Although they did not know the exact cause, they said it didn’t look like arson.

Greve knelt and wailed by a makeshift memorial of stuffed animals and cards left by her children’s playmates.

“I wil mis you,” read one of several cards placed around a tree in the front yard of the burned home at East 108th Street and Bennington Avenue.

Greve was comforted by friends from the LifeQuest Church, where the family were members. “Jesus is helping me through this,” she said.

She and her husband were both baptized at the church on Sunday, Mother’s Day. Brinton was dedicated in the church at the same time.

Karen Blankenship, the church’s executive director, said the congregation had come together to support Greve and helped her find a place to stay.

Greve said the fire spared little.

“No crib. No sofa. Nothing. They’re just gone, and so is my family.”

The fire was discovered shortly after 12:30 a.m.

Next-door neighbor Ulises Vega saw the fire when his dog woke him up. He ran out and pounded on his neighbors’ front door as flames roared.

He couldn’t roust anyone or get inside, so he ran to the back door and tried to force his way in, but it was locked and the door was hot. He grabbed a chair and smashed it into a window.

“There was so much smoke,” Vega said. “It was scary.”

Firefighters from Station 41, which is less than a minute away, quickly arrived and found extremely heavy smoke and fire coming from the front of the house, said Battalion Chief Lew Hendricks, a spokesman for the Kansas City Fire Department. The fire had already burned through the roof.

Greve, who reportedly was working at the time of the tragedy, met firefighters in the front yard.

“They (firefighters) had to deal with a distraught wife and mother who was desperately trying” to get into the house, Hendricks said.

Crews knew early on that the conditions were untenable for anyone still inside, Hendricks said.

As one group of firefighters entered the house and attacked the fire, another group searched the house for the three family members.

“They found the victims within one to two minutes after being on the scene,” Hendricks said.

Father and daughter were pronounced dead at the scene. Emergency crews rushed Brinton to a hospital, where he died a short time later.

The fire devastated the neighborhood, a tight-knit place where children played together.

Michelle Ohayon, who lives nearby, said her two daughters and Donnica attended Burke Elementary School. They played together almost every day after school in Donnica’s backyard because there were swings and a play set.

Her son, 12-year-old Isiah Ohayon, said his sisters stayed home from school because they could not stop crying.

“We’re all friends around here,” he said.

Greve “is a very sweet mom,” Michelle Ohayon said. “I am sick to my stomach that she has to go through this.”

A crisis team went into Burke Elementary to explain what had happened and answer questions, said John Baccala, a spokesman for the Hickman Mills School District.

In Donnica’s first-grade class, children wrote notes and letters and made love chains — all a form of art therapy to help them deal with their grief, Baccala said.

The principal of the school, which has about 350 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, sent a letter home notifying parents.

“We are all heartbroken,” Baccala said. “It is really, really sad. She was a wonderful kid, a wonderful student.”