SUGAR LAND, TX - As more than four million Texans suffered for days in the dark without power during the historic winter storm, many relied on their fireplace for light and warmth. Sugar Land officials now investigating whether a fireplace was the reason three kids and their grandma died in a house fire on February 16.
On Thursday, the kids’ father spoke out publicly for the first time since that devastating loss two weeks ago.
"Losing one child is tough enough and losing all three at once was devastating," said Dr. Nate Nguyen.
After losing power in their Sugar Land neighborhood for more than eight hours during the winter storm, 11-year-old Olivia, 8-year-old Edison, 5-year-old Coco, and their grandmother Loan Le turned on their fireplace to keep warm and went to sleep.
But just before 2 a.m. on February 16, firefighters were called to their house on Vista Lake Drive and found all four had died upstairs.
The kids' mother, Jackie Pham, was downstairs and escaped with minor burn injuries. Sugar Land officials said Pham had to be physically restrained from going back inside the house.
The parents are separated. The kids’ father, Dr. Nate Nguyen, says he didn’t find out till nearly six hours later.
"The lights had been out, and my phone didn’t have any battery so I didn't find out till 8 a.m. that morning. So many things run through your head. Is this real? Is this happening?" said Nguyen.
Reserved, calm and collected by nature of his profession, Dr. Nate said he’s remained silent for the last two weeks to process his grief and make it to the kids' funeral this past Wednesday.
"You start cleaning and doing things just to keep busy, things I didn’t do before. But there’s always those moments of downtime where it is the hardest; driving to work, before bed, enjoying meals that I know they loved," Nguyen said.
Nate now finds himself focusing on the happiest memories to get him through the darkest moments.
His youngest, Coco, loved to sing and dance, Edison -- a gifted artist, and Olivia -- a passionate cook.
While there are many stages of grieving, Dr. Nate says next, his focus will shift to finding answers for closure.
"I think I'm at a point now where I do want to know what happened. I’m going to start trying to find out," Nguyen said.
Sugar Land officials are still investigating the cause of the fire, but are now focusing on the fireplace and the flu box.
Nate said Olivia and Coco would’ve celebrated their 12th and 6th birthdays at the end of this month. He plans on doing something special with his family to commemorate.
His family has also been raising money for a scholarship fund and fire safety education.
"There’s a tuition assistance program, so we wanted to donate a bulk of that to that program for kids in need at St. Laurence Catholic School. The other project would be to help fund the fire department in Sugar Land and other families and kids. You never expect this to happen. In my head, I’m like what if we had a fire drill in the house that they knew? Things they could’ve learned. This could’ve been avoided with a bit more education," Nguyen said.
If you’d like to help, click here.