A heartbroken mum has told of her agony over not throwing her seven-year-old son to safety first before she jumped out of a window to escape a deadly blaze that killed him.
Efe Urhie, 50, said she will never recover from the devastating loss of her youngest child Joel – and how she “died that night too”.
Joel, who dreamed of becoming a doctor, was killed when a burning object was pushed through the letterbox of their family home in South East London last year.
Efe, a senior staff nurse, escaped the inferno in the early hours of August 7 by jumping 15ft from her upstairs bedroom with plans to catch her son. But he failed to follow her.
Joel’s body was found by firefighters in her room by the windowsill.
Efe’s 19-year-old daughter Sarah, who was back home from Coventry University, also managed to escape the burning house from her first-floor bedroom window.
Efe is still racked with guilt over her beloved son’s tragic death. They were so close people used to call Joel her “handbag”.
She told the Sun Online: “I always think ‘what would I have done? Why didn’t I throw him down from the window?’
“But if I’d thrown him down [and he died] I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself because it would have looked as if I was the one who killed him.
“That’s why I threw myself down first in the hope that if he jumped on me, I would be a cushion for him. But he was scared to jump because he was a little boy.”
Recalling the horrifying night that turned her life upside down, Efe explained how she and Joel had both fallen asleep in the sitting room downstairs.
However, at about 2.30am, Joel said he wanted to go to the toilet and was very hot.
Efe said: “I didn’t have a fan downstairs but I had one in my bedroom so we went upstairs…if I had a fan downstairs, maybe he would still be alive.”
Around 30 minutes later Efe could hear her daughter screaming “fire, fire”.
She said: “The fire was just in front of my bedroom door, so there was no way to escape…whoever threw it must have known the lay out of the house.
“My daughter jumped out her bedroom window and broke her toes. When she jumped, she thought we were already dead.
I was screaming ‘my son, my son, my son’. I was screaming for help. The fire was breaking all the windows and doors
“She was screaming ‘help, help’ as she limped down the street.
“I told Joel we were going to jump out the window. I said ‘you’re going to jump on me.’ He said ‘OK Mummy we will make it’. But by the time I came out, he didn’t come. I think he was scared.”
Efe, who was wearing just a vest and pants, fractured her pelvis and elbow in the 15ft fall.
She said: “I was screaming ‘my son, my son, my son’. I was screaming for help. The fire was breaking all the windows and doors.
“My neighbours called the fire brigade but by the time they came, he was already dead. They found him in my room by the windowsill…I think he wanted to try and jump but it was too late.
“They took me to the ambulance and told me he was dead. To me, I died too because we were so close. That guilt will never leave my mind.”
Efe spent more than 15 weeks in hospital recovering from her injuries and has only returned to her nursing job this week.
But she will never be able to recover from the heartbreak of losing Joel.
She told the Sun Online: “We were so close. My daughter used to say ‘Mum he thinks you are his wife!’
“He loved reading books and downloading them on his iPad. He was one in a million. His smile and laugh would light up a room and he was so full of life. He was so unique.
“He was always looking out for other people. He was so caring and he wanted to become a doctor when he was older.”
For weeks after the fire Efe continued to set her alarm at 7.30am, the time she used to wake Joel up for school.
Joel’s cousin, Tega Majoroh, 19, added: “Joel was like the sunshine after rain. Coming home to him was like a breath of fresh air. He was always happy and always made others around him happy.”
To add to the family’s torment, the arsonist who torched the house has never been caught.
Efe told the Sun Online: “It’s been very, very frustrating.
“You could be walking down the road with the killer. They have slipped through the net. I want justice for Joel.”
In a desperate plea to her son’s killer Efe said: “It would be better for him, or her, to come out because an innocent child has died in a place that is supposed to be a safe environment for him.
“I feel the pain every day, it’s not easy for me to move on. I don’t want any other family to go through what I’ve gone through”.
In a further tragic twist, Else told how she had warned the authorities her family were at risk before the arson attack.
She said Joel’s 21-year-old brother Samuel was stabbed on two separate occasions following his release from prison for drug offences.
She said she’d repeatedly asked Lewisham Council to rehouse Samuel as she did not “feel comfortable” with him in her house – but they failed to do so.
Threats to the family were discussed at a meeting of the council, police and probation service 10 days before the fire following an allegation Samuel had been shot at – but no special measures were put in place.
Efe said the family’s home in Deptford should have been fitted with a panic alarm and a fire-proof letterbox yet no action was taken.
She told how the family had also approached the probation services themselves just four days before the deadly blaze.
Joel Urhie, who dreamed of being a doctor, was trapped in his bedroom in Deptford[/caption]
The upstairs bedroom of Joel’s family home[/caption]
In August last year two men, aged 21 and 29, were arrested in south London on suspicion of murder, attempted murder and arson with intent to endanger life.
They have been released while inquiries continue.
Scotland Yard have not charged anyone in connection with Joel’s death.
Detective Chief Inspector Mark Wrigley, who is leading the investigation, said: “We are pursuing a number of other lines of enquiry, and we are unable to rule in or out any particular motive at this time.
“I do want to remind anyone with information that we are dealing with the death of an innocent seven-year-old child. He should have been able to sleep safely with his mother, but instead he died at a tragically young age due to a callous attack which was doubtless motivated by factors far behind the comprehension of any young child.
“There are people out there who know exactly what went on and who is responsible for Joel’s death. I need them to call me now.”
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Lewisham Council has announced a child death review will be held into Joel’s killing.
In response to calls for a Serious Case Review, a spokesman said: “Joel’s murder was a tragedy. Those responsible for Joel’s murder must be brought to justice and face the full force of the law. If anyone has any information we urge them to contact the police.
“As part of our public health approach to violent crime, a learning review of this homicide and other serious incidents of violence in Lewisham is underway.
“The purpose of this work is to understand common themes and help us identify effective strategies for the multi-agency safeguarding partnership to keep our residents safe.”
Anyone with information should call the Metropolitan Police on 020 8345 3715.
Crimestoppers is offering a £10,000 reward for information they receive anonymously that helps catch Joel’s killer. They can be contacted on 0800 555 111.
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