Vacant Detroit house fire kills 80-year-old woman living next door, despite neighbor's effort to save her

Man tried to save woman from fire at Detroit home on Hickory Street


DETROIT – Helen Roberts spent most of her time in an upstairs bedroom at her home on Hickory Street in Detroit.

The 80-year-old Alzheimer's patient was there about 9 p.m. Friday when someone set fire to the vacant home next door. The flames spread quickly and Roberts became trapped upstairs in her burning home.

Emmanuel Holman, 20, was playing basketball in the street. He ran to the back of Roberts' house where he climbed a fence and grabbed a gutter.

"I sat down and scooted myself over to the window," he said.

Holman saw Roberts in the burning room. He reached his hand into the window.

20-year-old neighbor tries to save woman

"Every time she went to reach for me it's like she must have been getting burned because she kept stumbling backward," Holman said.

He was turning his head away from the burning home to get fresh air while he tried to get to the elderly woman.

"It was so much fire I couldn't step in there because I would have been burned with her," he said.

Detroit firefighters reached Roberts from another angle. Arelia King and several other neighbors shared a disturbing account of what happened next.

She and other neighbors said police and firefighters left Roberts in front of the home, naked. The city has disputed what the witnesses say happened.

"(They) sat her in front of the house on the yard, just left her there for like 15 minutes. She didn't have nothing on," Arelia said. "They took her away in a police car 15 minutes later. No oxygen while she was sitting in front of the yard. It was devastating."

Roberts was taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital where she died.

The Detroit fire chief who responded to the scene told Local 4 the victim was pulled from the house within 45 seconds of firefighters' arrival. It took about three minutes for rescue crews to transport her to the hospital.

Grandnephew says woman raised him

She is mourned by her grandnephew, Dustin Bean, who she raised since he was a baby. Bean lived with her but was out of town when the fire happened.

"She was my everything," he said. "She took care of me every day of her life. I've never been without her."