A woman whose 10-month-old baby died this week in an apartment fire failed to regain custody yesterday of her 2-year-old son, a District official said.
In D.C. Superior Court, Magistrate Judge William W. Nooter concurred with a recommendation from social service officials that Fritzie Flores's son remain in foster care, where he has been since the fire Sunday.
The court declined to disclose the outcome of the hearing, which was closed to the public, or provide information about what led the judge to his decision.
Mindy Good, a spokeswoman for the District's Child and Family Services Agency, described the outcome of the hearing. "We recommended that we hang on to them, and the court agreed," she said.
The court also ruled that the two other daughters of Flores's mother, Maria Vasquez, remain in foster care, she said. The girls, 12 and 4, were in the apartment when the fire broke out.
Flores's baby, Jonah, died early Sunday in a fire that engulfed the family's Columbia Heights apartment. The fire department has concluded that the fire was started by a burning candle in the baby's room, according to Alan Etter, an agency spokesman.
Flores, 20, and Vasquez, 40, were not home at the time of the fire, reported about 3:15 a.m. Maria Vasquez's mother, Zoila Vasquez, 83, was caring for the four children.
The family had been without electricity for six days before the fire because $491 was owed on a Pepco bill. Flores has said that she placed a lighted candle in the baby's room because he was afraid of the dark.
Flores had sought assistance from the D.C. Energy Office on Sept. 20, the day after the power was turned off. A supervisor said he had approved a $400 payment late last Thursday and left the order for another employee to submit to Pepco.
However, according to the supervisor, the employee and two others were not at work the next day, and the paperwork remained in a drawer through the weekend.
Herbert R. Tillery, deputy mayor for operations, who has reviewed the agency's response to Flores's application, said the office performed its duties properly, within constraints.
He said the office was hampered because two employees were off and a third was sick. "What should have been done, or could have been done, was to take someone from another office and have them do it," he said. He added: "I am not condemning anything. I am satisfied that they did what they could do."
He said the Energy Office would change its procedures to ensure that an emergency coordinator is always on duty during office hours. He also said that the agency would purchase battery-powered lanterns to distribute to people who lose electric power.
At a vigil last night, about 150 people gathered with candles and flowers below the charred and boarded windows of the apartment where Jonah Flores died.
Firefighters and police officers stood with D.C. Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Fire Chief Adrian Thompson. "This is a healing process for this neighborhood and this family," Graham said.
In a brief interview, Maria Vasquez said she had received no response from city officials about her request to talk with her young daughters.
"I cannot live without my kids. I cannot survive without my kids," she said.
Graham handed Vasquez a $400 check from his constituent services fund and said his office would accept donations for the family.
Vasquez shook the hands of four firefighters from Engine Company 11, which responded to the fire, and thanked them for their efforts to save her grandson. Firefighter Francisco Iscoa later addressed the crowd.
"We only ask your forgiveness that we could not take everybody out" of the apartment, Iscoa said in English and Spanish. "God bless you and your family."
Arriving at the center of the vigil, Flores sobbed and turned away, too distraught to speak. Students and faculty members from a GED program Flores attends gathered around her to offer condolences.
For most of the evening, Zoila Vasquez raised a white candle near a tearing and swollen left eye.
"I want to give thanks to God for each and every one of you," she told supporters in Spanish.
After the vigil's final prayers, she leaned against a wrought-iron fence, crying alone, before a young girl offered her an embrace. Enveloped in the child's arms, Vasquez released a violent wail.
A funeral Mass is planned for Jonah Flores at 6:45 p.m. today at Sacred Heart Church at 16th Street and Park Road NW.
Staff writer Henri E. Cauvin contributed to this report.