Ten fall victim to deadly fire

MEXICO CITY — A man who died with his wife and three sons when fire swept through their Columbus, Ohio, apartment complex was fond of his adopted country but longed to return to Mexico, his father said Tuesday.

“He dreamed of us, dreamed of seeing us, of talking,” Antonio Noriega said of his son Ismael Noriega, who left for the United States six years ago. “But he also said clearly, ‘Papa, mama, I’m content here. Right now I’m happy because I’m helping you. I’m providing the tortillas.”‘

Like his father before him, Ismael Noriega once worked as a mason’s helper in the central Mexican town of Leon — a job that sometimes paid less than $6 a day. In Ohio he earned enough as a landscaper to support his wife and three young sons — and help his parents too, his father said.

Ismael’s new start in the U.S. came to an end Sunday in a fire that killed 10 people — including his wife, Lidia Mejia, 22, their three sons, three other members of the Mejia family and two friends from Leon.

Officials hope to learn the cause of the early morning fire this week.

Antonio Noriega and his wife, Felicitas, received a steady flow of visitors at their home in Leon on Tuesday.

It was uncertain how long it would take for the remains of family members to arrive in Mexico for burial.

All 10 victims died of burns and smoke inhalation, but their injuries were too severe for family to identify them and DNA testing might be needed, the Franklin County coroner’s office said Monday.

“If they ask for that, it will make things more complicated and it will take us longer,” said Eleazar Ruiz, Guanajuato state delegate to the Mexican Foreign Relations Department.

Limited cargo space on commercial flights could cause further delays, he said.

Ruiz said a recent budget request likely would allow Foreign Relations to cover the cost of the repatriations.

“Our resources are limited,” Ruiz said. “But in cases like this, families can count on the help of the federal government.”

The Noriega and Mejia families planned to bury their relatives together outside Leon in the village of Lagos de Moreno, about 200 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Antonio Noriega said plans had been in the works to baptize in Mexico two of his grandsons who were killed in the fire.

A weekly international phone call kept Ismael in touch with his parents. But this week’s call came from Ismael’s brother, also a U.S. resident, bearing news of the fire.

Antonio Noriega, who said he is in his late 70s, expressed concern about supporting his wife and a lone grandson who lives with them.

“With the same money that (Antonio) was sending us, that’s what barely gave us enough when our grandson needed something for school,” he said.