By Andy Blatchford The Canadian Press
March 23, 2008, Montreal - As flames devoured the first floor of her townhouse and choking smoke billowed into the upper level, Marjorie Jean-Baptiste stood dangling her toddler out the second-storey window while her six other children huddled around.
By Andy Blatchford The Canadian Press
In the rush to save her family, the single mother of seven tossed six of her young kids one by one to a snowbank, six metres below the window.
The oldest child, 10-year-old Fabiola, jumped on her own. Once Jean-Baptiste knew her children were safe, she did too.
“I didn't want to die with my children, so I did what I had to do, I threw them,'' she told The Canadian Press as she recalled the traumatic events.
“I wasn't afraid because it was that or death.''
Jean-Baptiste's screams roused neighbours just after midnight on March 7 in Montreal's east-end community of Riviere-des-Prairies.
Two of the children landed safely in the arms of onlookers who had scrambled to the scene. The other kids thumped into the mound of snow.
Nine-year-old Daniel injured his ribs, six-year-old Ryan broke an arm and their little sister Chelsey suffered burns to her face, arms and hands.
Chelsey celebrated her fourth birthday in a Montreal hospital Saturday, as she waited to hear whether she would need skin grafts to repair her hands.
Their mother says the most important thing is that they're all safe.
“It's better that we have a small injury or a broken arm than die,'' said Jean-Baptiste, who suffered minor burns to her face.
Jean-Baptiste remembers waking to the cries of one of her children. When she opened the door to her bedroom she was met by a wall of black smoke.
The 34-year-old bolted in and out of the three upstairs bedrooms, pulling each child from their bed.
Her son Daniel found Chelsey at the top of the stairwell.
“I wanted to go downstairs to open the (front) door, and that was when I saw the fire and I saw my little sister,'' Daniel said.
“I didn't know yet that she had been burned, but I knew she was crying.''
He picked her up and rushed to his mother's room, where everyone had gathered.
Jean-Baptiste opened her window and made a quick search for a blanket to use as a makeshift rope for their escape. She could feel the heat closing in.
Sensing their time was running out, she grabbed two-year-old Andrew by the hands and dropped her youngest child out the open window from the second floor.
“When I saw after I let go that he landed on his two feet, I said, 'OK' and I threw the others,'' she said.
“I was on adrenalin, so there was no way I could be scared.''
Ryan admits he was scared when it was his turn to go, but he flashed a big grin and waved his outstretched arms as he recounted the story.
“Mommy threw us,'' said Ryan, who was wearing a cast on his right arm. “I thought I was flying.''
Jean-Baptiste, who was not insured, said she lost everything in a fire that gutted her subsidized housing unit.
Some of the children are staying with her aunt, while the others have been taken in by a friend.
Jean-Baptiste, who does not smoke, said she doesn't know how the fire started.
Montreal fire officials say the unit's smoke alarm did not work. They believe the blaze started in a sofa on the ground floor.
The Montreal police department's arson squad is still investigating.
Meanwhile, members of the city's Haitian community were to host a spaghetti dinner on Sunday to raise funds for the family.
Jean-Baptiste, a full-time mother, said she is touched by the assistance she's received.
“But my biggest preoccupation is to find a place to live,'' she said.
More than a million Quebecers were to get a chance to hear Jean-Baptiste's story Sunday on Tout le monde en parle, a hugely popular television show.