When Dejanelle and Tiffany Lockette needed a playmate, their aunt LaTonya was always there for them.
"Tonya liked them a whole lot," said LaTonya's mother, Ella Farmer. "She'd sit around and play with them, dance with them. She just did things with them until she'd wear herself out."
On Jan. 17, 17-year-old LaTonya Farmer gave her life for the girls.
A month after the fatal fire, Ella Farmer is unable to hold back tears as she describes the scene inside the family's apartment at 714 W. 25th the night of the blaze.
The family had gone to Wal-Mart on Jan. 16 to buy a white shirt and black skirt for LaTonya to wear the next day, when she was scheduled to sing in a choir at a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
"She loved to sing," Ella Farmer remembered. "She'd sing songs on the TV, on the radio and on her tapes. Everything."
Before they went to bed on Jan. 16, LaTonya and Brandy Martin, a 13-year-old friend who was sleeping over, combed Dejanelle and Tiffany's hair.
Hours later, Ella Farmer said, she was lying asleep on the living room couch when she was awakened by her daughter, Sonia Farmer, who was outside shouting.
She said she tried to open the door.
"A LOT of smoke came in," the soft-spoken 43-year-old Lawrence woman said. "I inhaled a whole lot of it then."
With the apartment rapidly filling with smoke, she said, she ran into a back bedroom where LaTonya and the children were sleeping.
"I said `Tonya, Tonya, help me get these kids out,' " she said. She said she broke out the window screen. "She (LaTonya) just stood up straight and started passing the kids out the window. The last I saw her, she was down she'd fainted."
Seconds later, Ella Farmer also collapsed. She was rescued by firefighters, then was taken to the Kansas University Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan.
Along with Ella Farmer, firefighters rescued Monechia Fisher, 7, the sister of Tiffany and Dejanelle.
LaTonya died at Lawrence Memorial Hospital hours after the fire. A friend who was staying overnight with LaTonya, Brandy Martin, 13, died Jan. 18 from injuries she suffered in the blaze.
ELLA FARMER remembers only snatches of the scene inside the smoky, dark apartment. She recalled that the smoke detector didn't sound until she opened the door. She remembered seeing Brandy sitting up on a bed, but wasn't sure whether she was asleep or awake.
"I called to Brandy, but she didn't say anything," Ella Farmer said.
Ella Farmer said she remained hospitalized for about three weeks after the blaze. Much of the time, she was hooked to a respirator. Her trachea was swollen so much that she was unable to speak.
During an interview Wednesday at Sonia Farmer's Lawrence home, Ella Farmer said she was recovering steadily.
Although she remains hoarse, she said chest pains she suffered for weeks after the fire have subsided.
While she recovers, she wonders why anyone would want to set the fire that killed her daughter.
"It was all unexpected to me," she said. "I didn't believe anybody could do something like that."
Some neighbors have said they saw people smoking crack or free-basing cocaine in a vacant apartment in the building. Ella and Sonia Farmer didn't see that, but they suspected something odd was going on in the apartment.
"You could pull the door closed and somebody would open it back up," Sonia Farmer said.