Family of mother, son killed in condo fire asks for understanding

The family of a young mother and her 3-year-old son who died after being injured in a fire that tore through a San Juan Capistrano condominium complex early Tuesday pleaded with the public not to judge the woman by the crowded conditions that she and other family members lived in.

Maricela Sanchez and her young son Jaiden Liborio were among 17 people who lived in a four-bedroom condo just blocks from the historic Mission San Juan Capistrano. The woman's youngest son, 2-year-old Iker, remains in critical condition.

"Please, let us remember how she lived her life, not the tragic accident," said Dora Sanchez, Maricela Sanchez's older sister, standing outside UCI Medical Center in Orange where the youngest child is being treated.

MORE: O.C. neighborhood staggered by condo fire

The fire left 80 residents homeless and eight people injured, most of them children. In tapes of 911 calls, residents breathlessly described the fiery scene.

The flames moved quickly, consuming mattresses that lined the floor of the four-bedroom unit, officials said. The unit's smoke detectors had been removed and those in neighboring units were not operating, fire officials said.

Thick smoke from the blaze woke residents, triggering a panic as some tenants jumped from windows or lowered children to the ground below to escape the flames, firefighters said.

Dora Sanchez described her sister, who lived with her husband and two children in one of the rooms in the four-bedroom condo, as a loving mother who gave birth while still a high school student and worked hard to complete her diploma while working in childcare to provide for her children.

"She made their lives happy and we are happy for their time together," said Lilia Sanchez, the victim's younger sister.

Maricela Sanchez attended San Juan Hills High in San Juan Capistrano and had lived in the condo that burst into flames for four years with her sons and husband. Among the unit's 17 occupants were her mother-in-law, who remains in critical condition at UCI, and her husband's relatives.

Family members said they are worried that social media will distort the story of the fire, and pointed to at least one online fundraiser that is being marketed by people who have no connection to them.