UPDATE! Girl, 11, Babysitting Her Siblings Could Not Save Them in Tragic Fire. Start the Parent Blaming?


A truly horrible event occurred in Sheboygan, WI, the other night: Parents were out at what is said to have been bible study while their four kids — 11, 10, 9 and 7 — were home. A bykbrttehe
fire broke out
. The Sheboygan Press reports that one child escaped. The oldest, Natalie, went back in to get the younger ones and she died, as did her 7 year old brother. Their 10 year old brother is in critical condition:.

“Very preliminary information is that the 11-year-old was able to wake the 9-year-old and give a warning to flee the residence. The 9-year-old did, believing the others were following,” [Sheboygan Falls Public Safety Director Steven] Riffel said. “The 11-year-old returned to assist the other two still upstairs, but none were able to flee the home.”

The family has a gofundme account set up — here it is — and is enduring not just this unfathomable grief, but commenters who say it’s all the parents’ fault for not being home. But here’s a comment — one of many — that is eloquent and compassionate. It was sent in by a person named Jessica Robinson:

I have never before commented on Gofundme or really any internet tragedy, but as the eldest of five kids, I will say that I was also left to babysit my siblings while our mother ran errands, starting at age 10 or 11. She was never gone long, usually to the post office or grocery store, akin to how these parents must have felt when following their weekly routine of Bible Study and leaving the eldest in charge. It never felt like “bad parenting” because it was not. These parents are absolutely not at fault, and the people leaving those heartless comments are cruel. It is likely that none of you commenting knew Natalie. Perhaps her parents felt she was responsible and mature enough for her age to be in charge as her younger siblings slept while they stepped out for an hour or so. Accidents and freakish, tragic events such as this unfortunately occur everyday without rhyme or reason. If anything, the small silver lining is that one or both parents did not also perish in the fire, and that the surviving daughter still has parents to raise her and they will try to get through this as a family. It is beyond my comprehension as to how some people could speak hatefully in the face of such a tragedy that has left one family forever hurting. Have you no heart? My thoughts go are with this family. I hope they are one day able to find a new “normal”; though the pain of such untimely losses will never fully go away, I pray that the parents and daughter will still be able to see and experience the beauty in life and rebuild from this unimaginable occurrence. Rest in paradise, little angels. Natalie is a true hero. ♥
It is exactly situations like this that our legislators will use to justify things like the “No Children Under 10 Shall Be Allowed to Stay At Home Alone” law proposed last week in Rhode Island. And yet, laws made in the aftermath of tragedies are generally terrible. They look back and say, “If only we NEVER let X do Y…” without taking into account any of the unintended consequences, hidden costs, or basic freedoms lost.
Let’s not blame the parents and let’s not make any new laws based on an event so rare and horrifying, it made the newspapers and has already garnered many contributions. – L.



Fox 11 Online reports:

Sheboygan County District Attorney Joe DeCecco said the fire may have been electrical. And he said it would take a “major revelation” to cause him to file any criminal charges against the parents, Chris and Kristi Maki.

“I’m inclined right now to say it’s simply a tragedy, not anything else,” the prosecutor said.

House fires should not be used to justify parent-blaming or lawmaking.

Rare and horrific tragedies should not be used to justify parent-blaming or hasty law-making.


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48 Responses to UPDATE! Girl, 11, Babysitting Her Siblings Could Not Save Them in Tragic Fire. Start the Parent Blaming?

  1. Backroads January 31, 2016 at 9:14 pm #

    Such an incredible tragedy.

    And yet… we hear of kids dying in fires with the parents right there.

    I’m heartbroken for this family, but who anticipates such a thing? There will always be “if onlys” during accidents, but the adage “we can’t be too careful” is absolutely true: sometimes things will happen that no matter how prepared we are, we won’t be prepared enough. It’s no reason to not prepare, but it’s also no reason to live in fear. We are mortal, we all die someday, and we can only give our reasonable best.

  2. Emily January 31, 2016 at 9:18 pm #

    But, if the parents had been home, they might have gotten burned in the fire too. Is that what they would have wanted? Is that what all those strangers on the Internet would have wanted for that family? Are people really stupid enough to think that adult supervision always guarantees complete safety, and lack of adult supervision is always dangerous?

  3. Sarah January 31, 2016 at 9:20 pm #

    We don’t know anything about what started the fire at this point, but as Backroads has commented, the fire could perfectly well have broken out with the parents home, and *everybody* died in the fire. It’s not like having parents home is a magical mystical fire prevention system. I’ve quite frequently read about “house fire; parents and three children dead,” etc. It’s just the fact that the parents weren’t home that has brought this particular one to the news. But no, *unless* it turns out that the kids started the fire, I don’t see the result as being any different if the parents had been home.

    Furthermore, legislation based on a specific tragic incidence is rarely good legislation. It’s almost always fear-mongering and right-limiting, an attempt to legislate us into the wonderful sparkly world of unicorns and fairies where nothing ever bad happens to anyone because the law prevents it all. In other words… it doesn’t work, it never has, and it never will.

  4. Heather January 31, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    This happened in Sheboygan, WI, not Michigan.

  5. BL January 31, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

    Sheboygan *Falls*, actually, but still in Wisconsin.

  6. James Pollock January 31, 2016 at 9:52 pm #

    But if the parents had been there, then they’d be dead too, and their droids would now be in the hands of the Empire.

  7. TLM January 31, 2016 at 9:58 pm #

    I am glad you picked up this story. This was the second tragedy involving kids and fires in a week in our state.

    What I took away from these accidents was not to blame the parents but to educate my own kids better!! Some houses can go up in flames so quickly and some materials smoke more than others…it is the smoke that gets people!! 🙁

  8. K February 1, 2016 at 12:01 am #

    For a story with a happier ending: http://www.littlethings.com/teen-hero-saves-rape-victim-v5/

    Imagine if the kid had done what many of the comments suggest, which is to refuse to open the door to the woman because “it could be a ploy” and “he should never have opened the door to anyone.” I’m all for teaching kids to be prudent about opening the door to/letting in strangers, but you have to leave the opportunity for intelligent kids to react appropriately and humanely to the situations they’re faced with, which this kid did.

  9. sigh February 1, 2016 at 1:18 am #

    Oh, hell, I hope they weren’t trying to cook something.

    I’ve nearly set our house on fire myself several times, walking away from the stove. A neighbour of ours several years ago lost their home to a fire that their 10-year-old started when he was heating up beans on the stove. No one was hurt but they lost their lovely old home a week before Christmas. Mom was home when the fire started.

    Thing is, cooking fires happen when parents are home. Sometimes it’s the parents who start them.

    Terribly sad story, here. If the kids were trying to cook something, the parent-blaming is sure to be even more intense, but for myself, I just shudder and think, “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.”

  10. Warren February 1, 2016 at 8:18 am #

    30 years ago a fire broke out in an apartment one floor up from our 15th floor apartment. My dad, uncle and myself were first there. Four people were home. Older sister and friend of mine, same age as me, 17, her friend, 5 year old brother and baby sister. We got the oldest and her little brother out, but couldn’t get to the friend and baby. Fire department got those two out. Baby didn’t make it due to smoke despite firefighters never giving up. The other 3 made it.
    Turns out, some problem with the microwave oven started the fire.
    Proof that bad things happen to good people.

    Tragedy happens. Otherwise we never would have needed to come up with the word tragedy.

  11. lollipoplover February 1, 2016 at 10:07 am #

    Anytime children die there will be parent blaming. It’s like peanut butter and jelly.

    The news over the weekend reported a 6 year-old boy in NJ walking to school in a vicious attack with a rabid raccoon. Go to the comments and it doesn’t take long to ask, “WHERE WAS HIS MOTHER??” and the parent blaming for a random, rabid animal attack starts because he was a child.

    If these morons could read, the article stated the mother was right there with him and she couldn’t prevent the attack (a hero bystander beat the raccoon off the boy with a stick). Then the comments asking, “Why was he walking to school???”, because walking with your child is so deadly a parenting sin.

    My condolences to this family who was devastated in this fire. I hope the community rises above blame and anger and helps this family heal from an unspeakable tragedy.

  12. A Reader February 1, 2016 at 10:14 am #

    Those of you from New York probably heard about the tragedy in Brooklyn where seven children died in a fire about 6 months ago. Dad was out, but mom was home. She was only able to save one of her 8 kids. Fires are scary and dangerous, an adult being around guarantees nothing. Heck, firefighters, who are TRAINED for these situations can’t always save everyone and sometimes lose their own lives in the process.

  13. That_Susan February 1, 2016 at 10:33 am #

    That poor family! People need to quit being such blamers.

  14. BL February 1, 2016 at 10:41 am #

    “If these morons could read, the article stated the mother was right there with him”

    Yeah, but where was the raccoon’s mother? This could have been prevented!


  15. Vicki Bradley February 1, 2016 at 11:14 am #

    @A Reader: Those are all excellent points you make!

  16. David February 1, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    I’m waiting for someone to start a recall petition against the prosecutor

  17. sigh February 1, 2016 at 12:43 pm #

    “It’s simply a tragedy, and nothing else.”

    In my view, the only way to cross the line into parent responsibility is if they had set the fire themselves, with intent to kill.

    I’ve got a VERY high threshold for parental “negligence.” I tend to see things in the context of “life happens.”

  18. John February 1, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

    I’m sure most people here have already heard about the 6-year-old New Jersey boy who was attacked by a rabid raccoon while walking to school with his mother. Fortunately a good Samaritan, who was driving down the road, saw this horrible scene and then stopped his car and beat the raccoon with a big rod or a stick, killing it. He saved the boy’s life as that raccoon would have torn him to shreds! Of course the mother was horrified witnessing this raccoon doing this to her son and felt helpless until this man stopped to help.

    Well believe it or not, there were a couple of bloggers who criticized the mother for not fighting off the raccoon before the guy stopped to help. They felt that because she was the boy’s mother, it was HER responsibility to help her son and nobody else’s.

    Now how can people be so stupid?? Can we try having a little common sense here? Not everybody in this world is capable of fighting off an aggressive rabid animal no matter what the circumstances are. Obviously this woman did not have that capability but was so grateful to the very aggressive man whom she says saved her son’s life!

    It just pisses me off when people judge these situation AFTER THEY HAVE THE BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT! “Well I would have done this and I would have done that”. You have NO idea what you would have done!

  19. John February 1, 2016 at 12:47 pm #


    Oops! Sorry lollipoplover, I didn’t see your post mentioning the raccoon boy before posting about it myself. Isn’t it amazing how stupid people are?

  20. Jenna K. February 1, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    Oh how tragic and awful for that family! Parents being there doesn’t mean the fire could have been prevented and all the kids saved. It’s silly to even think that. Sounds like the kids did what they were taught to do and still didn’t make it out, which does happen, even with the most responsible adults. What a terrible tragedy! My heart goes out to the parents and the surviving child.

  21. Jessica February 1, 2016 at 1:01 pm #

    I know from personal experience that I tend to freeze in emergency situations. Drilling helps, which is why I did okay in the Navy cuz we were drilling most days. Most people don’t drill for fire in the house, let alone rabid raccoon attack, so while these stories may encourage me to talk and practice with my own family about what to do in these emergency situations, I won’t vilify those for whom it’s too late. Truly, it could be my story encouraging them to take precautions, and not the other way around. I hope those parents find peace and hat the DA’s decision not to press charges for an accident helps them get there.

  22. Red February 1, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

    I see this type of magical belief a lot on mothering groups/mother blogs–that somehow in an emergency the woman believes she will turn into superwoman and be able to save everyone. So if a fire breaks while while mother is there, mother will be able to save everything. Thus, if fire breaks out when mother is not there, and everyone dies, it’s mother’s fault as well.

    On fire safety in particular, it goes to some really weird ends. Like moms putting gates in children’s bedroom doorways rather than closing the door. Because it’s their perception it’ll make it easier to “rescue” their kid in case of emergency (rather than a shut door). Whereas actual fire safety guidelines are to shut bedroom doors at night because that limits the spread of both smoke and fire, and thus gives everyone a higher chance of staying alive. Leaving the bedroom door open greatly heightens your risk of dying of smoke/fumes inhalation without ever waking up.

  23. Ben February 1, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

    I’m just glad that, for once, law enforcement and prosecutors are not supporting unfounded accusations.

  24. david zaitzeff February 1, 2016 at 1:38 pm #

    When I was growing, the parents and the kids had a basic fire drill and fire safety instructions and made sure we could fit out of the appropriate windows and could get out safely in case of fire engulfing the rest of the house.

    The truth is that fire can engulf homes whether parents are home or not . . . Whether they are home or not, kids should be instructed in fire safety actions and the homes should have a working smoke alarm.

    If someone wants to have a good idea for a law, if a newer law was needed, it should be re smoke alarms and fire drill instruction.


  25. EricS February 1, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    Such a tragedy. No one is to blame here. I wouldn’t. However, every child no matter how young (as long as they can understand what you are saying), should be taught what to do in different types of common emergencies. Yes, fire is a common emergency. Fire safety and evacuation know how, as well as a planned exit strategy. We learned these drills in elementary school back in the day. Stop drop and roll, if your caught on fire. Crawl on the ground to get out. Check for closed doors, if it feels hot to the touch, do not open. Brake a window and crawl out if you have to. Etc. It’s also a good idea to teach kids 10 and older how to do CPR, they may never need it at that age, but knowledge is power. As well as basic first-aid.

    My deepest condolences to this family.

  26. Jennifer Haraway February 1, 2016 at 2:26 pm #


    I live very close to this community so this has hit close to home, literally. I do have to say, for every negative comment I’ve seen on social media, there are 10 others offering thoughts and prayers to the family. I think the gofundme account is a testament to the support the community has given this family. I too have an 11 year old and have left her alone numerous times. Who knows how the outcome would have been if the parents had been home. Regardless, it’s a horrific event and this family has been through enough without anyone casting blame on them. I couldn’t agree more with the Sheboygan Co. DA on this one. The one silver lining is that Ben, the last child who died, donated his organs to save 5 other lives.

  27. EricS February 1, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

    @K: That was a cool story. What surprises me, wasn’t the kid’s actions, it was the reaction of all the adults. Like it was some sort of thing that NO CHILD (even a teenager) is ever capable of, therefore extremely shocking.

    Adults and parents really need to stop underestimating children. My take, they underestimate them, because whether they realize it or not, they just don’t trust themselves and their parenting abilities. eg. Had they been in that situation, they wouldn’t have been as calm and collected, and smart as that young man. They probably wouldn’t have even helped the woman. And she could be dead now. All because many adults these days can’t comprehend doing what’s right, and reacting to fear.

    I hope his parents see their children differently after this (that they aren’t helpless, unknowing automatons). But then again, I think the dad already knows. He did trust his son to watch over his siblings while he stepped out.

  28. lollipoplover February 1, 2016 at 2:56 pm #

    @BL- Since the raccoon had a raging case of rabies, I bet the raccoon’s mom was one of those anti-vaxxer moms and the standard internet reply to those moms is that they deserve to die of disease because of their ignorance.

    Gosh, go on any accidental child death and look at the comments. The first 2 or 3 will be “RIP little angel” and then it will get into sanctimonious parenting, because most people sitting and commenting on the internet would “Never take my eyes off a child!” even thought they are online and likely not paying a lick of attention to their kids at home. But if yours gets killed, they are better than you.
    I guess they don’t sleep at night or go to the bathroom. It’s amazing how much better people are as parents in the comment section on a tragic child death.

    “Where was the mother?”
    What about the father? Why does he get a pass and why do we have to finger point at grieving families when we should be giving them hugs and support instead?

    I will hide behind the internet with this one when I admit this:

    We had to call for a fire truck a few weeks ago when my husband suspected an electrical fire in our basement and a problem with a new chimney/wood burner we had recently had installed. I was cooking dinner and told my son to light the fireplace, something he has done for years. He needed wood so he sent his sister (9) to fill up the wagon. Our seasoned wood was right outside the door yet she went behind our shed to get the newly cut, unseasoned wood…oops. He lit the fire and it was immediately very smokey despite the flue being opened. We opened windows but the thick smoke set off the fire alarms. Strangely, the basement filled with smoke and there WAS a weird smell coming from near the utility room (that connects with the fireplace.)
    So we called the fire company. We asked for a non-emergency response (no sirens etc.) and several young and cute firemen showed up. They quickly assessed that we had used untreated firewood and the chemical smell down the basement was the result of my daughter and her friends coloring with their new deluxe set of magic markers that they left the caps off of on the table adjacent to the utility room.
    Yes, magic markers and untreated wood. That was our suspected electrical fire.

    So God bless all of the firefighters out there (many who are volunteers, like ours) for serving communities and saving lives. We have made so many technological advances in our society, but fires remain a constant disaster that can happen to anyone.

  29. James Pollock February 1, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    “In my view, the only way to cross the line into parent responsibility is if they had set the fire themselves, with intent to kill.”

    My bar is somewhat lower. If they left the child to care for the other children, and have never done any fire safety instruction, that could edge into responsibility for the parents.

  30. Kristin M February 1, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

    Until every single house, townhouse, condo, apartment, hotel, motel, trailer, hovel, and one room shack are built fireproof (a la Fahrenheit 451), and until every single current (and future) congessperson is dead, tragedies like this one, and resultant “tragedy laws” will continue to babify children and punish adults for making a bad decision.

  31. Donald February 1, 2016 at 4:33 pm #

    Some people dish out cruelty like free beer. Call me a new ager or a karma clown but I’m careful what I pass around. I know that in some way it will come back. Sow a thought you reap an act. Sow an act, you reap a habit. Sow a habit, you reap a character. Sow a character, you reap a consequence.

    In this case, the cruel commentators that blame the parents are on their high horse and look down their nose at people. Therefore their friends/aquaintenences will have a similar outlook. They also teach their children to be judgmental as well. To make a long story short, if you are cruel, you will surround your life with cruel people. It won’t be mystical karma magic if they eventually turn on you or be as stringent in their critique about you.

    Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Forgive me for quoting the bible. I’m not Christian nor am I in any organized religion. However I still believe that there are some truths in it.

  32. John February 1, 2016 at 5:31 pm #

    But it is nice to know that no charges will be filed against the parents, as if the parents need anymore grief. I’m glad to hear that finally there is a District Attorney with common sense!

  33. Emily February 1, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

    >>My bar is somewhat lower. If they left the child to care for the other children, and have never done any fire safety instruction, that could edge into responsibility for the parents.<<

    The parents might not have had to do fire safety instruction with the kids, if their school did it. I remember that mine did–it was a whole big thing every year, from kindergarten through grade eight.

  34. James Pollock February 1, 2016 at 7:14 pm #

    “The parents might not have had to do fire safety instruction with the kids,”

    I disagree. Even if the kids school, or church group, or scouting organization, or some combination of all of these and others besides teach fire safety, there are still some things that are specific to each family. Like… where do you go if you get out (so that nobody thinks you’re still inside, and gets themselves killed or injured trying to find you inside the house)? Who should you call if mom and dad don’t answer their phones (or never come out of the house)?

  35. Donald February 1, 2016 at 8:24 pm #

    Hindsight is always 20/20 vision. “I could’ve, would’ve and should’ve given my children fire safety training on top of the fire training that they get at school”. However I still don’t consider this to be neglect.

    BTW if I would have chosen 20 5 28 45 29 25, I would have won the NSW lottery

  36. James Pollock February 1, 2016 at 9:16 pm #

    “‘I could’ve, would’ve and should’ve given my children fire safety training on top of the fire training that they get at school’. However I still don’t consider this to be neglect.”

    It’s still stupid, though.

  37. Donald February 1, 2016 at 11:37 pm #

    One thing I will say that is good about hindsight, it’s a great opportunity for harmjoy. These poor people lost two of their children and have one in critical condition. Even though they’re going through a bad time, schadenfreude still prevails. I’d be embarrassed if I was that insecure.

  38. jacika February 2, 2016 at 12:32 am #

    Really very important information. Thanks for sharing

  39. James Pollock February 2, 2016 at 12:35 am #

    “I’d be embarrassed if I was that insecure.”

    You’re the only one talking that way, chum.

  40. Donald February 2, 2016 at 2:19 am #

    I have said it before and I’ll say it again.

    Arguments for you are the same as spinach is for Popeye. You get a perk from it. This poor family lost 2 kids and have one in critical condition. Way to twist the knife. Did it make you feel better?

  41. James Pollock February 2, 2016 at 9:04 am #

    “You’re STILL the only one talking that way, chum.

  42. That_Susan February 2, 2016 at 11:49 am #

    “My bar is somewhat lower. If they left the child to care for the other children, and have never done any fire safety instruction, that could edge into responsibility for the parents.”

    That could certainly edge into the parents feeling more responsible for what happened, as any parent who has lost a child is bound to already be mentally going over everything they might have done differently to prevent the disaster. Also, parents hearing about this tragedy are likely to ask themselves whether they’ve given their own children adequate fire safety instruction, and rectify the situation if they haven’t.

    Other than that, I don’t see any other responses for this kind of thinking to “edge into” — certainly not criminal prosecution for any parents who were honest enough to admit that they hadn’t done any instruction.

  43. hineata February 2, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    What a brave girl, to head back in. Unfortunately something similarly tragic happened in Northland about ten years ago. In that case, four children were sleeping in a sleepout and a candle was knocked over. The 10 year old (oldest child present ) dragged out the 9 year old, but succumbed when he went back in for the 2 younger children. Just horrible. I don’t remember much in the way of parent-blaming then. Instead it prompted various schemes to get families into better housing…

    @James Pollock – just go away. Disgusting…

  44. James Pollock February 2, 2016 at 2:14 pm #

    “@James Pollock – just go away. Disgusting”

    What, exactly, is your complaint?

  45. James Pollock February 2, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

    “Other than that, I don’t see any other responses for this kind of thinking to “edge into” — certainly not criminal prosecution for any parents who were honest enough to admit that they hadn’t done any instruction”

    Where are you seeing anyone suggesting criminal prosecution? It specifically says in the update that in this case, there isn’t any.

    “Also, parents hearing about this tragedy are likely to ask themselves whether they’ve given their own children adequate fire safety instruction, and rectify the situation if they haven’t.”

    Silver lining. Not much comfort in it, though.

  46. Papilio February 2, 2016 at 6:04 pm #

    Aw, that poor family, losing their children/siblings like that.

    “Parents were out at what is said to have been bible study”

    Has anyone suggested to ban bible studies yet? If it only saves one child…

    @sigh: “Oh, hell, I hope they weren’t trying to cook something. […] but for myself, I just shudder and think, “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.””

    My basic sentiment when turning on the stove.

  47. sexhysteria February 3, 2016 at 2:04 am #

    Isn’t this God’s fault?

  48. Ste11aeres February 5, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

    The eldest child succeeded in saving one of her siblings, and died trying to save the others-could an adult have done anymore than that?