Four children are dead and six people have been hospitalized in North Texas in what is believed to be a tragic case of accidental pesticide poisoning.
Amarillo fire officials said Monday that a pest control chemical sprayed under a home likely formed deadly phosphine gas when someone attempted to wash it away with water.
A visitor to the home called 911 after arriving early Monday and discovering everyone was ill. First responders initially believed it to be a case of carbon monoxide poisoning.
However, officials now suspect that phosphine gas was released after the chemical aluminum phosphide was mixed with water under the home.
Aluminum phosphide, because of the extreme danger it poses when exposed even to just moisture, is a restricted use pesticide that may only be dispensed with a license.
Once inhaled or ingested, the respiratory system is attacked and it only takes a few parts per million to cause death.
All told, 10 people were inside the home. Nine of them were taken to the hospital after one died at the scene.
"Our guys arrived on scene, they found a lot of sick people, they found one child who was unconscious and unresponsive, they pulled the child out of the house, started CPR, rescue efforts were unsuccessful, unfortunately that child was pronounced dead later at the scene," Amarillo fire Captain Larry Davis told KFDA. "They also evacuated all the other people and they were taken to local Amarillo hospitals."
Three more victims later died at a hospital. The oldest of those was 17 and all of them were siblings.
On Tuesday morning, the victims were identified as seven-year-old Felipe Balderas, 11-year-old Josue Balderas, nine-year-old Johnnie Balderas and 17-year-old Yasmeen Balderas.
Their mother, identified as Martha Balderas, was initially listed in critical condition and placed on life support. According to a GoFundMe page created by Terry Rodriguez, who says he's taught several of the victims, she was responding to treatment and in stable condition as of Tuesday morning.
"I can tell you about the three youngest; , all students at Eastridge Elementary. Josue wanted to be a priest and was an alter server at St Lawrence. He was a gentle soul, slow to anger and quick to provide comfort. Johnny was a comic. So smart and so aware of his strengths and weaknesses . He was the first to laugh at himself and never met a stranger who wasn't just a friend in the making," Rodriguez wrote. "Felipe was my most recent student. He was everyone's friend and so proud of all the progress he made daily."
As of Tuesday morning, $18,000 had been contributed to the Balderas family fund.