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He Feared the Family Was Dying. Responders Didn't Enter the Home

Inside a baffling and tragic case of carbon monoxide poisoning in Houston
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 22, 2021 9:00 AM CDT
He Feared the Family Was Dying. Responders Didn't Enter the Home
Negussie talked to 911 operators and fire captains six separate times.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – Michael Negussie tried mightily to get help to his cousins and their two children, whom he believed had fallen unconscious due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Two ended up dead, and the hours-long delay in getting emergency responders not just to their home but inside it is the subject of a joint report by ProPublica, NBC News, and the Texas Tribune. It was the night of Feb. 15, and the power was out in Houston due to a severe winter storm; a friend had been on the phone with the family when they abruptly stopped responding, and they had mentioned keeping their car running in the home's attached garage to charge their phones. That friend lived out of state, didn't know the family's address, and used social media to alert relatives. Hence, Negussie's call to 911 just before 9pm.

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Emergency responders did respond promptly—but as Negussie learned in a call with a fire captain at the dispatch center 20 minutes later, no one answered the door. "It’s one of those things, if they get there and they have to force entry, they’re going to break the door, displace the lock," the captain was recorded saying. Negussie was perplexed: The whole point was that the family was thought to be unconscious. The article goes deep into what happened next, but the upshot is that despite Negussie's request that responders break into the home ASAP, it wasn't until after midnight that yet another 911 call from Negussie got a second group of responders to the home and into it, where they found mom Etenesh Mersha, 46, and daughter, Rakaeb, 7, dead. Husband Shalemu Bekele and son Beimnet, 8, were alive, raising questions about whether the others could have been saved if they were reached earlier. The piece ends with a three-word sentence that contains a shocking detail. We won't spoil it; read the full story here. (Read more Longform stories.)

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