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Mom, teen son die in fire in Rockaway, New Jersey

January 18, 2013 2:18:33 PM PST
A teenaged boy trying to save his mother died along with her in an early morning fire at a home in Rockaway, New Jersey, early Friday.

A neighbor fought back tears as she described what happened at the home on Green Pond Road in Rockaway Township in the moments before 17-year-old Daniel Decker and his 58-year-old mother, Pam, died.

"You couldn't believe the amount of people trying to stop the fire and save that family, but they couldn't," Andrea Kodack said.

The fire was first reported around 6:00 a.m. on Friday

19-year-old Garret Burnette and his girlfriend Shannon Koeppel just happened to be driving by in the moments before firefighters arrived. The young couple say they tried hard to save Daniel and his mom.

"Smashed the window, kept screaming and screaming, but nothing. Nothing. Didn't hear anybody," Burnette said.

But then they saw Daniel's father, Brent. He was the only one who made it out alive, and he shared the final moments of his family's harrowing ordeal.

"He heard his wife say, 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe anymore.' His son went back upstairs to get his mother. He wasn't gonna leave his mother in there," Burnette said.

Some of Daniel's friends from high school are just trying to absorb the news.

"We saw him yesterday, and then today it's a completely different story," 10th grader Samantha Garcia said.

"You take your life for granted every single day. Just make every moment count before it's gone," 10th grader Kyleigh Miller said.

Shannon Koeppel realized that the teen who tried to be a hero was someone she knew well, growing up.

"Such a sweet family. Such a sweet little boy. So brilliant," she said.

Area residents say the family lived in the home for more than a decade, and that Daniel wanted to enter the Coast Guard.

Officials say the fire does not appear to be suspicious, but the cause is not known at this time.

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