FOREST HILLS, Queens — Neighbors came to the aid of a man whose body was on fire, and tried to save his life.
The fire that consumed him also burned the man's nephew, who lives with him. The nephew is now recovering in a burn unit, in critical condition. It's a story of heroism and selflessness, but is also a tragedy.
"It was really gruesome," said Bobby Li, a neighbor who lives in an apartment right above Ramon Rahim, 56, the man, known by his neighbors as Junior, whose clothes and skin combusted around 10:20 a.m. Tuesday morning.
"I went outside" of their building at 111-29 66th Avenue, Li said. "The guy was just on fire on the ground, so I took off my shirt, tried to put him out, and called 911."
As he worked to try and save his neighbor's life, Li saw a teenager rush toward them.
"I go out with a pitcher of water," said the teen, Jacob Rodriguez, 15, "and I pour it on him," Rodriguez said. "And then, I do it a second time."
At the time, Rodriguez had been with his grandparents, who live in the apartment directly below Rahim's. Rodriguez's grandmother, Ofelia Lingad, was the first to hear Rahim's screams, as he ran down the stairs of their entryway from his second story apartment.
"'Someone's shouting for help,'" Ofelia Lingad's husband, Frank, said that she'd told him and her grandson, the latter of whom sprang to action, along with their third floor neighbor, Li.
Ultimately, it was for naught.
"We were able to put the guy out," Li told PIX11 News, "and at that point, he was already dead, I think."
Meanwhile, at the rear of Rahim's apartment on the second floor, Rahim's nephew, Emilio Campbell, 30, who lives with him, apparently threw his mattress out of his bedroom window, jumped onto it and ran.
"Our outside unit," said FDNY Deputy Chief Steven Kubler, who led the response of 60 firefighters to the scene, "said they saw a gentleman coming around the corner, walking with burns to his head and back of his neck."
Medics stabilized Campbell and got him to the hospital right away. He was, however, in critical condition. The source of the fire, which investigators describe as small, is still under investigation.
Chief Kubler did point out, however, "We did discover a non-operating smoke detector in the apartment, so there, they had no warning of the fire."
As the investigation continues, so does the somberness. That feeling will, however, last when the investigation ends.
"I wish I was able to do more for the guy," Li said. "I'm still trying to process."