A deadly fire tore through the home of a Quakertown family early Christmas morning, killing a father and two of his three young sons.
Eric King, 41, and sons Patrick, 8, and Liam, 11, died in a blaze thought to have been ignited by lights on the family’s Christmas tree. King’s oldest son, Brady, 13, and wife, Kristin, were treated at an area hospital and released.
“From what we were told, Liam had woken up Brady and Kristin and told them to get out of the house,” said Colleen Nimnaugh, King’s sister. “Then, he and Eric and Patrick couldn’t make it out.”
The Quakertown School District posted a statement calling the news “devastating for the District community and the Quakertown area at large. Eric and Kristin are very active in the community, and the kind of people who make this a special place to live and attend school.” The district will establish a hotline for those in need of support.
A GoFundMe established in their names, which had raised more than $300,000 by 9 p.m. on Christmas, described the couple as high school sweethearts, “always smiling and full of positive spirits” — “the happiest people you will have ever met.”
“You just couldn’t help but to love them,” organizer Kristin Randazzo wrote. The family’s two dogs also died in the fire, according to Randazzo’s post.
State and Quakertown police and fire officials did not respond to requests for information Saturday.
“Right now, it’s our understanding that we’re looking at the Christmas tree that may have ignited as a result of Christmas lights on that Christmas tree,” Quakertown Police Chief Scott McElree told CBS3.
Karen Hammerschmidt, who runs an organization called Quakertown Community Outreach, said that she was at the scene overnight and that neighbors in the adjoining house narrowly escaped. “She literally got out with the clothes on her back; her and her son and her dog, it’s a miracle that they made it out. The fire went up in minutes.”
More information was expected to be added to the GoFundMe site over the weekend on where donations of clothing and other essentials could be made.
Eric King worked alongside his father running a construction business, American Craftsmen Inc., and was the consummate youth sports coach and family man.
Nimnaugh, who with Kristin King runs KM Fitness & Nutrition in Perkasie, described her brother, the oldest of four, as protective, generous, and understanding — “the best person in the room.”
King’s other sister, Sarah Thiel, added that he “was probably the best hugger in the whole world. I think anyone who’s ever met him can attest to that. He was just a kind person.”
Of their nephews, Nimnaugh said: “Liam was free-spirited and strong and so, so smart. He could literally take apart anything and put it back together. He made things that didn’t work work. ... Patrick was so sweet. He was a little snuggle bunny. He especially loved his mom, so when he would be with us for even a night he always asked for her. He was the sweetest little boy and always funny.”
All the boys were athletes, and Eric King dedicated many of his nights and weekends to the Quakertown Youth Baseball Association.
“He was very giving of his time. He was a beloved coach, and he had many people who wanted to be on his teams,” Quakertown Youth Baseball president Mike Bianco said. “He had fun with the kids and he always made sure that the kids had fun.”
Matt Schill, who coached with King, said he happily overcommitted himself to make sure his own kids and those in the community had well-maintained fields and a full coaching staff. “We commiserated all the time going back and forth about how we didn’t know how we were going to coach all these teams and do all this stuff while running our businesses. We used to joke we had a weekly conference call to complain about stuff that we’re not going to change.”
Another friend and fellow coach, Mike Harris, said he believes King died as he lived: giving everything to protect his sons.
“He made so many sacrifices for the kids he coached and for his own family,” Harris said. “Knowing him and the kind of guy he was, I know he would have never not tried to save his family. He never would have left that dwelling while that situation was ongoing. I’m sure he would have done anything to get everyone out.”