Sugar Land mom shares grief and memories after frost fire kills 3 children and mom


After playing cards and spending time together by the fireside, the tired family members fell asleep, brushed their teeth and went to bed as the Houston area slipped into one of its nights. the coldest.

The family home in Sugar Land, like millions of others across the Lone Star State, was out of power by then.

8-year-old Edison went to his 11-year-old sister Olivia’s bedroom, which had bunk beds. The children’s grandmother, Loan Le, had planned to sleep with the youngest Colette, 5. And the mother of the children, Jackie Pham Nguyen, 41, walked over to her bedroom.

These are the last moments Nguyen remembers of the night.

At around 2 a.m. on February 16, Sugar Land firefighters responding to a fire reported by a neighbor found the family’s red brick house on fire, said Doug Adolph, a city spokesperson. All three children and their grandmother are deceased. Nguyen, who should have been prevented by a first responder from entering the house, and a friend were taken to hospital for treatment of injuries including smoke inhalation and burns.

“I just know I woke up in the hospital,” Nguyen said on Sunday.

Nearly a week after the blaze, Adolph said there was no update on the investigation into the cause of the blaze. The family had been trying to warm themselves with a fireplace, according to earlier posts on their social media accounts, Adolph said. Temperatures that night fell in the teens.

“Obviously they were trying to stay warm,” Adolph said at the time. “We can’t say that’s the cause, we just think we know they were using a fireplace.”

Undated photo of Olivia, 11, Edison, 8, and Colette Nguyen, 5, who, along with their grandmother Loan Le, died in a house fire in Sugar Land on February 16, 2021. The family had used a fireplace to stay warm after losing power in the bitter cold.

courtesy of Jackie Nguyen

Children remember

In the days after the fatal fire, Nguyen said, she messed up everything about her children. The other day, she failed to drive them to school. And at 4 p.m., she missed seeing them arrive home.

“Most of all I think what I’ll miss is seeing them become these amazing human beings that I knew they would be,” she said.

A few years ago, when Nguyen gave birth with Colette on Olivia’s birthday, the oldest was full of excitement.

“Oh my God,” Nguyen remembers his firstborn word. “I’m going to have a twin sister.

Colette was born a day later.

Olivia had since matured, developing an intelligence and an interest in a wide range of topics for an 11-year-old: the most recent elections, history, law and activism. She believed in the acceptance of all humans, her mother said.

Two online fundraisers have been launched to honor the memory of the three Nguyen children. They include a GoFundMe Site set up by the Rice community of Jackie Nguyen and another site started by the sister of Dr Nathan Nguyen.

And sometimes she caught nuance in TV shows even before her mother.

“I just felt like she was taking this major turning point in life when it comes to, for example, character development,” Nguyen said. “I just knew she was going to be this amazing human being who was going to contribute so much to the world and I not only feel a sense of loss for my daughter, but a sense of loss for the world and for the society that she did. not had the chance to do anything meaningful with his life.

The young man was already taking care of the others.

She made cinnamon buns for Santa on Christmas Eve, operating on logic – since Olivia was 4 – that the old man might be fed up with eating cookies. Plus, it might help make their home a memorable one for him.

An adventurous eater, Olivia spoke at one point of becoming a food critic or traveling the world for a TV show. Almost two weeks ago, on her mother’s birthday, she tried her hand at making a fried egg sandwich for breakfast.

Full of curiosity

Meanwhile, Edison, “sandwiched in the middle of two girls,” as Nguyen put it, did not appear to be suffering from any middle child syndrome. Being the only boy in the house allowed him to claim some sort of fame, Nguyen said.

Active, he and Nguyen have started running together over the past year. He also learned to ride a bicycle.

He was mildly autistic and enjoyed arts and crafts, Nguyen said. He drew his family, as well as abstract art. Some sort of obsessive personality guided his passions. If a line on a drawing didn’t come out the way he wanted, he would tear it up and try again, his mother said. He fully immersed himself in his interest of the day.

In the space of a few months, art and architecture captivated his curiosity. Everyone he met would be faced with a battery of questions, Nguyen said.

Do you like modern art?

what kind of art do you like?

What kind of houses do you like?

I like houses with natural light. Do you like houses with natural light?

“He was super bright,” Nguyen said. “I was just thirsty to know. “

Watching TV or movies with him, however, might be a bit annoying for his sisters given his unquenchable thirst.

And Colette, the youngest, would speak to anyone who signed up, Nguyen said. She loved to sing and loved to play for others.

His charisma extended beyond his years. And being the youngest, she refused to be bullied.

“People just loved him,” Nguyen said. “I was sure she was going to do something amazing with herself as well.”

And she loved others in return.

When the family received a golden doodle over the holidays, Colette got excited about having a pet to care for. She fed the dog and tried to carry the fast growing puppy for as long as she could. Sometimes she would turn to her young furry companion.

“Give orders to the dog or just sit there and pet it,” Nguyen said. “Just literally telling him about his day.”

Sometimes her only spectator was her grandmother, Le.

As Jackie Nguyen, 41, heals from her external wounds from a fire that burned her and killed her three children, she searches for a way to build something significant that can be her children's legacy.  On February 16, 2021, Olivia, 11, Edison, 8, and Colette Nguyen, 5, along with their grandmother Loan Le died after their house caught fire as they tried to keep warm for a gel.  Sunday February 21, 2021 in Houston.

As Jackie Nguyen, 41, heals from her external wounds from a fire that burned her and killed her three children, she searches for a way to build something significant that can be her children’s legacy. On February 16, 2021, Olivia, 11, Edison, 8, and Colette Nguyen, 5, along with their grandmother Loan Le died after their house caught fire as they tried to keep warm for a gel. Sunday February 21, 2021 in Houston.

Marie D. De Jesús, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer

Long trip

Le was a Vietnamese refugee who first moved with Nguyen’s father to Kansas and then to California before settling in the Houston area in 1994. She loved the three children and helped Nguyen build a career by helping them, she declared.

She would pick up the kids from school or go shopping and hang out with the three. Olivia would ask questions about life in Vietnam. Edison was showing him his drawings. And Colette offered entertainment. Nguyen said his father passed away eight years ago, which was a huge loss for Le. But the children helped.

“She loved my children so much. So much, ”Nguyen said. “She loved all of their art. She loved everything they did. She kept everything.

Nguyen hopes to complete an MBA program at Rice University this spring. She credited her mother’s help with helping her advance in her career. After the fire, her community of Rice launched an online fundraiser for Nguyen and the father of the children, Nathan. Jackie Nguyen said she hopes to use the money to honor her children, either by setting up a foundation or making contributions to existing charities.

Nathan Nguyen, a doctor who studied in the medical branch of the University of Texas, wrote in a post on Facebook: “Hey everyone. The loss of Olivia, Edison and Colette is unbearable and your love and support mean a lot to me and my family. Many of you have asked what you can do. My sister created this GoFundMe page honor the children on my behalf. Thank you very much for your love and prayers.

“This is a huge loss for my brother, their father, for all of us, and we are trying to live and cope with this unbearable pain,” Dr. Nguyen’s sister, Vanessa Kon, wrote on this site. Its goal is to create a foundation in honor of children to provide tuition assistance to St. Laurence Catholic School and to raise awareness about fire safety.

The separate fundraisers raised a total of more than $ 528,000 as of Monday night.

The community offers comfort

People’s actions have helped, said Jackie Nguyen.

“You feel like you’re drowning and you feel like you can’t breathe,” she said. But the actions of those who helped – even the kind words here and there – were like taking to the skies. “It really, honestly speaks to the heart of Houston – our ability to come together and the community to come together. “

On Valentine’s Day, as the winter storm approached the Houston area, Nguyen and the children watched the 1997 movie “Titanic”. Olivia hated the movie after reading stuff about it online. Nguyen wanted to prove that it was a “great” movie.

They had to stop the film several times as Edison questioned the intrigues that Nguyen had never even thought of.

And why is a ship maneuvered in some way?

“Can you just watch it?” Nguyen remembered his sisters responding. “Can we just watch?” “

He refrained from probing too much, Nguyen said, and they finished the epic film. Everyone loved it. .

The next day, Le, without power since waking up, drove home early. She spent the day at the house, which still had electricity, with the children and Nguyen.

At around 5 p.m., they also lost electricity.

“I told everyone that they need to conserve the battery power of their devices,” Nguyen said. “We wanted to have means of communication.

Olivia had planned a Zoom call with friends from a summer camp she had been to in upstate New York.

Could she use her battery, she begged.

Yes, Nguyen told him.

They burned the fireplace to keep warm and hang out together, spending some quality time.

The weather, Nguyen said, which they appreciated.

As the hours went by and the kids tried to teach their grandmother a card game, everyone got tired.

Finally, they all fell asleep.

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