Family that lost daughter to fire ‘broken,’ but are relying on faith

The day after a fire ripped through the Rodriguez home near Palm Springs, leaving their 7-year-old daughter dead and two siblings hospitalized, the family is leaning on the one thing they have left: their faith.

That’s according to the children’s uncle, Luis Gonzalez, who Monday was at the scene of the charred home in the Holiday Ranch Mobile Home Park on South Military Trail. Melted dinosaur toys and singed children’s books were among the ruins.

“They lost everything, all they have is the clothes on their backs,” he said.

Gonzalez said the few belongings that weren’t destroyed in the fire were looted from the home Sunday night. He also said someone stole from the truck of the family’s father, Henry Rodriguez.

“They broke into his work van and took the tools from inside,” Gonzalez said. “Anything that was left in the house is gone, they don’t have anything. They need all of the help they can get.”

Elizabeth Rodriguez was pronounced dead at the scene; her brother, 9-year-old Henry Rodriguez, and sister, 8-year-old Kaly Rodriguez, are at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami where they are being treated for severe burns, a statement from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said. According to a Department of Children and Families report released Monday afternoon, the surviving siblings are in critical but stable condition.

While investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire, the DCF report said the trailer had been having ongoing electrical issues, “in that you couldn’t use certain things that required electricity at the same time.”

The three children were sleeping in a king-size bed in the bedroom at one end of the trailer while the father was at the other end, the report stated. The father awoke around 9 a.m. to a neighbor yelling that the house was on fire. The father and neighbor were able to get two of the kids out, but not Elizabeth.

The DCF report said the agency had no prior contact with the family.

The children’s mother, Melissa Rodriguez, sent a text to a teacher at her children’s school, Atlantic Christian Academy. It read: “We are destroyed, but we still have faith. My Lord took my baby, Elizabeth. I have no words to explain how is my heart, but I need to be strong for my kids and my husband.”

Luis Gonzalez, the children’s uncle, said he’s never seen a family as constantly happy as the Rodriguezes and, although they are struggling now, he believes the family will make it through.

“They’re just great people, humble people, and they love God,” Gonzalez said. “They’re still praying, they still have faith, and they know that God has a plan.”

Sylvia Espinoza, the children’s aunt, said the parents are “broken.”

“They’re taking it really, really hard,” she said. “No parent ever thinks they’re going to have to bury their own child.”

Espinoza described the children as lovely and pure-hearted.

“They are such great kids,” she said. “Elizabeth was such a sweet child and Henry would even preach at church.”

Jim Rozendal, headmaster at Atlantic Christian Academy, just up the street from the mobile home, said the Rodriguez children have been students there for four years. He described them as bright and hardworking who loved God and their family.

“Henry is studious and quiet, but is a hard worker. Kaly is the same, she just works hard. Elizabeth was an especially smart little girl, and they all loved each other very much,” Rozendal said. “The school family is reeling right now, but we do have faith that God has little Elizabeth in his arms right now.”

Maria Arias, who lives next door to the destroyed mobile home, said it could have been worse if not for the vigilance and quick thinking of others in the neighborhood.

“If it wasn’t for their neighbors, … It would have been worse than it already is,” she said.

The sheriff’s office said the neighbor woke up the father, and they were able to break a rear window and rescue two of the children.

According to neighbors, the children’s mother had taken a relative to the hospital around 5 a.m. and was not home at the time of the fire.

Arias’s son, Jonathan Acevedo, said the scene was pandemonium. He said he ran outside as soon as he realized what was happening.

“The heat was so intense,” he said. “You could see the flames coming from the windows and living room. The whole house was on fire.”

Espinoza set up a GoFundMe page for the family. With a goal of $25,000, it has already raised $4,111.

“No family deserves this, but especially not them,” Espinoza said.

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