Family Member Opens Up About Loved Ones Found In Nelsonia Fire

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Firefighters at the scene of a blaze where the bodies of three people were found on Feb. 1.
Alejandra Gonzalez and her daughter, Sofia Escalante.
Wilson Escalante

By Connie Morrison — Feliciano Ortiz, grandfather of  3-year-old Sofia Escalante, sobbed into the phone as he described to a reporter how his “beautiful” granddaughter would run to him saying, “Give me a kiss!” 

Ortiz said her body was one of those found in the aftermath of a blaze last Friday in Nelsonia, along with those of her mother, Alejandra Gonzalez, 25, and uncle, Wilson Escalante (Ortiz’s stepson), 24. State police have not released any names, pending the medical examiner’s positive identification of the remains. 

The medical examiner’s office would not confirm names or manner of death for any of the names mentioned in this story.

“She would say, ‘Give me a kiss,’ and I would give her a kiss. ‘Give me a hug,’ and I would give her a hug,” he said. “She was my heart.”

Gonzalez and Escalante, he said, were friendly people, and Gonzalez was always ready with a smile. “She liked to cook, to be in the kitchen … to shop,” Ortiz recalled.

Ortiz and his wife, Celestina Perez, mother of Wilson Escalante, lived in the mobile home with the three family members who perished, two surviving sons, ages 13 and 17, and a surviving daughter, age 7. The children were in school at the time of the blaze. Perez’s other son, Yener, who is the father of Sophia, also lived there.

Ortiz also has an adult daughter who has two small children. Her place of residence is not clear.

Several fundraisers have been established. Angelica Garcia, executive director of Dos Santos Community Services, a nonprofit serving Latinos on the Shore, said her organization is coordinating assistance to the family.

The nonprofit is posting a list of the family’s needs to its website, DosSantosFoodPantry.org Monetary donations can be made at the website, too, designating them for the Ortiz-Perez family. Checks can be mailed to Dos Santos Food Pantry, P.O. Box 758, Accomac VA 23301. She asks donors to write “Ortiz-Perez Fund” in the memo field to designate the funds to assist the family.

The family lost everything in the fire: food, clothes, bedding, shelter. “They are trying to figure out where they are going to live. They are completely displaced,” she said. In addition, the family must find the funds to cover funeral expenses for three family members.

Ortiz said the family, originally from Guatemala, moved to Virginia in 1997. He describes a quiet family that kept to itself. They did not come “to steal or to kill,” he said. “We just came to struggle and work” for a better life.

Garcia says the family is finding tremendous support. “What is beautiful is to see the community gather around them. It really is a testament to the unity of the Latino community,” she said. “It’s incredible to see that.”

The incident is being investigated by state police as arson and homicide. “The preliminary examination conducted Saturday by the Office of the Medical Examiner in Norfolk revealed that each of the three bodies recovered from a burned mobile home in Nelsonia suffered additional injuries inconsistent with a fire,” said Corinne Gellner, the agency’s public relations director. 

State police are asking anyone with information about the fire to call 757-424-6800, dial #77 by cell phone, or email questions@vsp.virginia.gov

The fire was reported to the Eastern Shore 9-1-1 Center at about 10 a.m., Feb. 1, at the 28000 block of Johnson Court. 

Linda Cicoira contributed to this report.