Trouble Is No Stranger to Couple Who Lost 3 Children

Times Staff Writers

The fenced-in back yard, shaded by tall eucalyptus trees, was a world away from the temporary homes that Ronald and JoAnn Parks and their three children had lived in since January.

When they moved into the garage apartment in the 6900 block of Sherman Way in Bell less than two weeks ago, they told neighbors that they were ready to settle down after a string of troubles that began a year ago.

But on Monday, the toy tractor, the lawn chairs and the tricycle--symbols of a new life in the suburban city for the young family--were left near the eucalyptus trees, blackened by a weekend fire that killed all three children.

Another fire had torn the family’s world apart a little less than a year ago. But that time, they were away from home.

“I stood there and watched my house burn two times,” JoAnn Parks said in an interview Monday evening. “At first I asked, ‘Why me? What I could have done to stop it?’ But now I just . . . it’s better to let go and realize they’re in a better place now.”


After the blaze was controlled early Sunday by Los Angeles County firefighters, the bodies of year-old Jessica Amber Parks and her sister, RoAnn Elizabeth, 2, were found in their beds. The body of their 4-year-old brother, Ronald Edwards Parks III, was found crouched in his bedroom closet.

Ronald, 41, and JoAnn, 23, said they married six years ago after knowing each other for only a week. Ronald has an 18-year-old son from a previous marriage.

In the past year, they have been from house to motel, to homeless shelter, back to motel, to garage apartment and back to the shelter after a string of bad luck, which included Ronald Park’s hernia operation and seasonal layoffs.

When they moved into the Bell apartment on March 31, they figured their luck had changed.

The Parkses had visited Universal Studios on Saturday. When they returned, they gave the children a kiss and put them to bed. Ronald Parks left to work an overtime shift--8:30 p.m. to 5 a.m.--at the Darigold Inc. ice cream factory in Los Angeles. His wife went to bed.

Heard Screaming

“The next thing I know, I heard my son screaming, and when I opened up my door, there was all this smoke,” she said.

JoAnn said she tried to reach her kids but could not get through the smoke and flames.

She sought a neighbor’s help.

“We went back into the house, and we couldn’t even make it down the hallway,” she said.

The flames swept into the two rear bedrooms, quickly cutting the children off from any escape route, said Bell-Cudahy Police Detective Hector Camacho.

The intense heat of the flames and thick smoke made it impossible for police officers, firefighters or neighbors to reach the children, he said.

Investigators determined that the fire, which began just after midnight Sunday morning, erupted when electrical cords from a television and a videocassette recorder somehow overheated.

Hard to Believe

The couple said they had not been told the cause of the fire but said they found it difficult to believe an appliance could have started the blaze.

There were no smoke detectors in the apartment, Camacho said.

The apartment was built to code, city officials said.

Last April 27, the family lost all their possessions in a blaze that destroyed a house they were renting in Lynwood. According to fire officials, that blaze was also caused by an electrical problem.

News of the tragedy left family friends and colleagues shocked, and wondering what they could do to ease the couple’s emotional and financial pain.

The couple are once again staying at the Rio Hondo Temporary Home in Norwalk.

The blaze left them with only about $100 in the bank and the clothes they were wearing.

“They are a decent family, a real nice family, cooperative, helpful and grateful,” said Michael Elias, executive director of the shelter.

Met at Shelter

Shelter resident Cindy Silva said she has known the family almost from the moment they moved into the shelter for the first time in January, after Ron Parks was temporarily laid off from his job at Darigold. Several months later, after Parks was rehired, the family moved into the apartment in Bell.

Silva said she often baby-sat the children.

“Little Ronnie loved to talk a lot,” she said. “He was very smart and intelligent.”

RoAnn, whom Silva knew as Annie, “always had a sparkle in her eye,” she said.

Then there was Jessica, a good-natured baby who would hop about in her walker when something caught her eye.

“My God, those children didn’t have long to live,” she said tearfully.

The shelter, the ice cream company and a Pico Rivera Christian Science Church, where the family worshiped, have set up charitable funds.

Church President Paul Garman said the couple have attended the church on and off for about 10 years. Police contacted Garman, who broke the news about the children to the parents.

Help Offered

Garman said he has received calls from mortuaries offering to provide free services. Citing concerns for privacy, Garman declined to release further details about funeral plans.

The church official requested that anyone interested in helping the family send donations to the Christian Science Church of Pico Rivera, P.O. Box 247, Pico Rivera, 90660.

Elias said donations to the shelter trust fund should be sent to the Rio Hondo Temporary Home, 12300 4th St., Norwalk, 90650.

The couple said they would rely on their religious faith to pull them through.

“I know I have to keep living, and I know they’re God’s children,” Ronald Parks said. “God is going to carry us through.”

” . . . Letting go is so hard,” his wife said. “I miss them.”