Donations piled high Saturday for more than two dozen families left homeless after New York City's deadliest apartment fire in decades.
People began dropping off bags of coats and clothes -- and even brand new toys -- the night before the drive began at Church of Saint Martin of Tours on Crotona Avenue Saturday morning.
"Even though I don't know them personally, to me, they're like family," said Shaquan Hoke, a resident of the neighborhood. "I was homeless with my family a little over ten years ago, and I know what it's like to need help."
Minutes after the drive opened, the NYPD already had dozens and dozens of bags of donations.
By afternoon, police said so many people contributed that the locations accepting donations had reached capacity and that there was no more room. The NYPD ultimately wrapped up the drive a day early, saying it had enough donations for almost 1,000 families.
"Whatever they need, that's what we'll provide," NYPD Community Affairs Capt. Kenneth Gorman said Saturday.
The outpouring of community support was visible outside the charred apartment building Saturday, with candles and signs of hope. Mourners had planned a vigil Saturday night, despite the frigid weather.
Father Cosme Hernandez, of Church of Saint Martin of Tours, said residents wanted to show the survivors they were with them.
"It's just part of our faith, that all of us in ups and downs, we're together," Hernandez said.
The fire killed 12 people, including three girls, ages 8 months, 2 and 7, an unidentified boy, another child, three women and four other adults, according to fire officials. Police released the names of all the victims Saturday.
Another four people were critically injured. Several more suffered minor injuries.
The fire began when a toddler was turning burners in his kitchen in the five-story building on Prospect Avenue and East 187th Street and ignited the flames, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. The boy's mother, who was in the apartment but not with the child at the time, was alerted to the blaze by his screams and grabbed him, along with his 2-year-old sister and fled their home.
They left the door open, Nigro said, which allowed the blaze to rapidly spread up the stairs. A city spokesman said the building was supposed to have fire-rated, self-closing doors; it was not clear if one was installed or, if so, why it didn't close behind them.
"The stairway acted like a chimney," Nigro said. "It took the fire so quickly up the stairs that people had very little time to react, they couldn't get back down the stairs -- those that tried, a few of them perished."
Officials and relatives have identified five of the victims: 2- and 7-year-old girls named Kylie and Charmela Francis, and their mother, 37-year-old Karen Francis; 19-year-old Shantay Young; and 58-year-old Maria Batiz.
A relative at the scene shared photos with News 4 of the children, one just a wide-eyed toddler sipping from a bottle, the other a young girl with a black leather jacket and hot pink pants.
Five of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene, police say: an 8-month-old girl, a 63-year-old woman, and three unidentified men.
Nigro said the 3-year-old boy who sparked the blaze had a history of playing with stove burners. He said the kitchen exploded into flames so quickly the mother had little time to do anything other than grab her children and leave.
Except for the Sept. 11 terror attacks, it was the city's deadliest fire since 87 people were killed at a social club fire in the Bronx in 1990.
The dozens who escaped the flames were being sheltered by the Red Cross at a school about a block away on Thursday, according to officials. There are 25 units in the apartment building. It wasn't clear when residents would be allowed back in.
Shacazia Brown, who runs a nonprofit that gives toys to children in need, was taking part in the donation drive Saturday.
"Christmas was just a few days ago and I know that families lost everything, so you can only imagine," Brown said. "Christmas trees, toys, whatever families worked their hard-earned money to get for their children was all gone."