Photos: Police searching for family of Nigerian man who died in Oakland fire, US
Four people were killed in a four-alarm fire which broke out at an Oakland apartment building in 2551 San Pablo Ave, Oakland on Monday, March 27th. Four others were taken to the hospital for treatment, including two children.
One of the victims has been identified as a 36-year-old Nigerian man, who stayed in Room 223. The coroner said his name is not being released until the victim's family is notified.
According to neighbours, he kept to himself, loved computers and would sketch Oakland landscapes with a set of colored pencils.
His background is something of a mystery. Neither neighbors nor mental health providers who referred him there know much about his personal life, or how he wound up living in a second floor room of the halfway house run by Urojas Community Services.
According to Oakland Fire Battalion Chief Erik Logan, about 80 to 100 people lived in the West Oakland building, which housed people recovering from addiction. He said crews were able to rescue seven people before the intensity of the fire forced firefighters from the building.
The three other victims named Edwarn Anderson, 64, Cassandra Robertson, 50, and Ashantikee Wilson, 41, have been identified and named by the Alameda County Coroner’s Office. But the Nigerian man was badly burned.
The coroner was finally able to identify him by a single fingerprint, but his name is being withheld until family can be notified — a fruitless search so far.
All research so far has led to dead-ends. Sheriff’s investigators learned he once lived in Cincinnati, but nothing more. One person who might have known him, Wilson, his apparent roommate in the San Pablo building, also died in the fire. "We’re having a hard time getting a hold of (the family),”"Alameda County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said. “Everybody we talked to doesn’t know him well or was just a friend. We don’t know how he ended up here."
Coroner’s officials were able to determine the person died from smoke inhalation. Days later, deputies received a hit from the FBI lab from a fingerprint, but it provided little more than a name. Investigators believe the man’s family may reside in Nigeria and attempts to contact anyone there have been unsuccessful, even after speaking with his social worker and others, Kelly said.
As fire investigators continue to probe what has initially been ruled an accidental candle fire, the coroner’s office is working to bring closure by finding the family of the fourth and final victim from Room 223.
Urojas co-director the Rev. Aurea Lewis, who is hosting a memorial for the four victims on April 23, remembered a man who stuck to a pattern. She likened him to the Dustin Hoffman character in the movie “Rain Man.” He had lived with Urojas for more than three years, she recalled. "He was a very quiet, observant man,” Lewis said. “He came to church every Sunday and in his own way praised."
She has no idea how he came to the United States. “It was very sketchy,” she said. "He was extremely savvy with computers. Computers were his way of expressing himself, and he liked to paint with colored pencils,” Lewis said.
Source: Mercury News/San Francisco CBS Local