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Arson suspected in fire that killed five

The three-story structure was burned early Saturday in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
The three-story structure was burned early Saturday in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
  • NEW: Victims are Guatemalan immigrants, friends say
  • Arson suspected in early Saturday fire, authorities say
  • Thirteen firefighters, four residents injured
  • Roof of three-story building partially collapsed

New York (CNN) -- Investigators suspect arson in a fire that killed five Guatemalan immigrants in Brooklyn, they said Monday.

"People are all concerned and very sad," said Maria Luz de Zyriek, the Guatemalan consul in New York. "This is a horrible tragedy."

Authorities continue to investigate and have not formally determined a cause, the Fire Department of New York said. The blaze damaged a restaurant and apartments in a three-story building in the Bensonhurst neighborhood, Frank Dwyer, a fire department spokesman, has said.

Luisa Chan, a mother of two, died in the blaze, said Mario Alvarado, a member of Jovenes Cristianos -- Christian Youth, a church with about 200 members, most of them Guatemalan immigrants, on 17th Avenue in Brooklyn.

Chan usually attended services on Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, Alvarado said. The congregation mourned her on Sunday.

"The service was so quiet," he said.

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Investigators have not publicly identified the victims, but the Guatemalan consul said they were all from the western part of the country. Two were from the state of Totonicapan and three were from the state of Quetzaltenango, she said.

After the fire broke out, Chan managed to get her 2-year-old son to safety, apparently by handing him to someone on the floor below, and threw her 2-month-old daughter toward a passerby, said Alvarado, who said he received that account from someone close to the family.

"Thank God they're safe," he said.

A 2-month-old baby was in critical condition, fire officials said, but the child was not immediately identified; three other people sustained injuries ranging from serious to minor.

Thirteen firefighters sustained minor injuries.

The fire started about 2:30 a.m. Saturday behind a door in one of the apartment units, Dwyer said.

"If somebody starts a fire there intentionally, that would certainly be looking to kill somebody, because there's no way for them to get out," Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said.

At Chan's church, members in mourning were waiting Monday for more information from authorities, Alvarado said. They also were getting ready for a memorial service and trying to comfort Chan's husband, who survived the fire, the consul said.

"The husband and wife belonged to that church. Everybody there knew them," said Luz, who went to the church during the weekend.

"Everybody there was so sad. Everybody was crying and praying for the husband," she said. "He's going to have to raise those two little kids now by himself."

CNN's Miguel Susana contributed to this report.