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A St. Louis mother desperately tried to save her five children after a devastating apartment blaze on her birthday.
The fire broke out in the early hours of Friday morning in an apartment where they had been staying with their mother and grandparents after their last home burned down just five months ago.
The mother of the children, 34-year-old Sabrina Dunigan, left home to drive someone to work and left the children alone at home. When she returned she discovered the home engulfed in flames, authorities said.
A fire broke out at 3am in an Illinois apartment today killing five children, aged between 2 and 9, while they were left home alone
St. Louis mom Sabrina Dunigan is mourning the loss of her five young children, identified as 9-year-old Deontay Dunigan, 4-year-old Jabari Johnson, and 2-year-old Loyal Dunigan and 7-year-old twins Heaven and Nevaeh Dunigan
7-year-old twins Nevaeh and Heaven also perished in the fire alongside their three younger siblings
Five crews from the East St. Louis Fire Department arrived to find two of the children dead inside a bedroom and three other children unconscious on the floor.
Two of the unconscious children died as firefighters were rushing them out of the building. The fifth child died on the way to the hospital, St. Clair County Coroner Calvin Dye said.
The victims were identified as 9-year-old Deontay Dunigan, 7-year-old twins Heaven and Nevaeh Dunigan, 4-year-old Jabari Johnson, and 2-year-old Loyal Dunigan, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The children's maternal grandparents - Greg Dunigan and his wife, Vanicia Mosley - had been sleeping in a sectioned-off room away from the kids, the grandfather told the Post-Dispatch.
Greg Dunigan told the paper he tried to get to the children but the flames were too strong.
He and his wife, who is blind, jumped out a back window to safety.
Family members told KSDK News that the tragedy took place on Dunigan's birthday.
'It's hard. It's just so hard,' Sabrina's aunt Sheila Dunigan said.
'Our family has never taken a hit like this, ever. We are devastated. We are broken,' she told KSDK.
Sabrina Dunigan (pictured) tried to run into the burning building several times to save her children but was unsuccessful
Dunigan with her children. The family had lived in the apartment for a short time after another home burned down five months ago, neighbors said
Five crews from the East St. Louis Fire Department arrived to find two of the children dead inside a bedroom and three other children unconscious on the floor
Locals hold up caution tape as a hearse carries the remains of the children
East St. Louis Fire Chief Jason Blackmon told DailyMail.com that the cause of the blaze is under in investigation by the Illinois State Fire Marshal.
'The guys are taking it pretty hard,' said Assistant Fire Chief George McClellan.
Sheila Dunigan is asking for privacy as investigators figure out the cause of the fire.
'No one knows the facts about anything. We're asking people to let us mourn,' she said.
'I just want everybody to pray for my niece because this is a tragedy,' Etta McCray, Sabrina's other aunt, told KSDK.
Sabrina Dunigan, who works with her father trimming trees, was a single parent.
She spoke with investigators after Friday’s fire and then left in a private vehicle, the Post-Dispatch reported.
The family had lived in the apartment for a short time after another home burned down five months ago, neighbors said.
The whole family escaped injury in that blaze.
Their current one-bedroom unit had reportedly been converted by the family to house the whole family.
Vanicia's sister, Shontice Mosley, told the Post Dispatch that the grandparents were living in one room at the back of the house, while Sabrina and the children stayed in another at the front. A kitchen in the middle separated the two living spaces.
Building owner Rudy McIntosh told St Louis Dispatch that the building had smoke detectors.
However, he could not confirm that the apartment was rented to Sabrina and her children.
He said: 'That's what I'm trying to do now, find out who was in there.'
Residents in three other units in the building escaped unhurt.
On Friday, friends, neighbors and community leaders gathered at the scene for a prayer vigil.
'God we just ask that you wrap your loving arms around this family,' a preacher said during the vigil that featured balloons and flowers for the deceased siblings.
Family was especially defensive of =the mourning 34-year-old mother, who is currently staying with her relatives.
'People are judging my niece. Please, don't judge her. Pray for her, that's all I'm asking right now, ' Sheila Dunigan said.
'We just got to trust God no matter what it looks like. He's our strength,' McCray added.
The East St Louis School District, where three of the children were students, described the blaze as a tragedy.
They said: 'Today the East St. Louis School District is grieving the loss of three students and their younger siblings. We send our sincere condolences to the family as they cope with this tragedy. We ask for respect and privacy as the family and our staff work through this significant loss.
'Our crisis team was on the scene following the event and is partnering with the Red Cross and Community Life Line to provide ongoing support services. Counseling services will also be provided to classmates and staff.'