MIAMI – Five young men who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a South Florida motel room were constant companions who acted like brothers and even went shoe shopping together before Christmas so they all would have the same pair, relatives said Tuesday.
They were celebrating a birthday Sunday night when they were overcome by carbon monoxide from a car they left running in a garage under their Hialeah motel room, police said. The teens' friends told police that the car was having engine trouble, and they had probably left it running so that they wouldn't get stuck with a car that wouldn't start, police spokesman Carl Zogby said.
Authorities identified the dead as Juchen C. Martial, 19; Peterson Nazon, 17; Jonas Antenor, 17; Jean Pierre Ferdinand, 16; and Evans Charles, 19. All lived within blocks of each other in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood.
The group rented the room Sunday around 9 p.m. to celebrate Martial's 19th birthday.
"On the 5 o'clock news I saw the same car his friend drove. I could not believe it," Immacula Nazon said Tuesday.
Martial's family had celebrated his birthday on Christmas Day and had gone to church on Sunday, and they didn't know he was going out later that evening, said his aunt, Magalie Martial.
Juchen Martial was the oldest grandchild in a close-knit, traditional Haitian family, she said. He was finishing high school and working part-time at a Wendy's, but he still was expected to meet a curfew every night.
The other teens found at the motel weren't people they had seen at their home before, she said.
Martial's grandmother was shocked to find he wasn't home when she returned from work late Sunday. When she called him, he told her, "I went to a little party. I'll be right back," Magalie Martial said.
They didn't hear from him again.
"Juchen and a bunch of friends died in a hotel, which we did not know about," Magalie Martial said. "That's what hurts the family."
Nazon's family said they had seen one of the teens driving the car just before Christmas. When the car showed up in news reports after the five bodies were found Monday, Nazon's mother knew something was wrong. She had been calling her youngest child's phone all morning, but he never answered.
Immacula Antenor came to the Nazons' home to share their grief, but she found it hard to talk about her son, Jonas. She softly described the group as "good boys," and both women shrugged at the idea of them throwing a party in a hotel room.
Nazon and Antenor had not told their mothers much about their plans, except to ask to borrow some cash. Martial was "a sweet boy, not a bad boy," and there was no reason to worry, said Nazon's mother, also named Immacula.
"Five people came to celebrate a birthday," she said. "Now they're victims."
The medical examiner determined Tuesday that the teens died from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, police said.
A maid called authorities Monday after looking through a window and seeing that the young men were unconscious.
In a 911 call, the maid described a strong smell of gasoline — "It's a terrible stench," she said. The maid told the emergency dispatcher in Spanish that she opened the door, called out "hello" and got no response.
"They're all there, and they don't respond," she said. "They're sprawled on the floor. I haven't wanted to touch them. I'm scared."
The group's car was found running in a closed garage underneath the room. A door to a staircase up to the room had been left open, and high levels of carbon monoxide were found inside, Zogby said.
No drugs or alcohol were found in the room, and there was no sign of foul play. Two of the teens were found lying on the bed, and the others were seated on the floor with bags of fast food on their outstretched legs, Zogby said. If they had been watching the coin-operated television, the minutes had run out by the time authorities found them.
"They looked like they were relaxing," he said.
The teens went shoe shopping together over the Christmas weekend so each would have the same pair, said Nazon's sister, 22-year-old Patricia.
She said she warned her brother that if one of the group got into trouble, they all would, because they were always together.
"He didn't listen to me. Now he probably thinks, I should have listened to my sister and stayed home," she said.
"There are other ways to celebrate your birthday. If they hadn't gone to the hotel they'd still be alive. Just stay home and get a cake, you know."