'I miss her so much': Family mourns loss of 6-year-old girl in minivan fire

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Distraught family members are remembering the six-year-old girl who died after a minivan caught fire in a Walmart parking lot in Fridley, Minnesota earlier this week.

At a press conference at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis Thursday morning, the girl’s mother said Ty’rah White could light up a room. Ty'rah's seventh birthday was coming up next month; her mom still plans to celebrate it.

“I just really miss her,” said Essie McKenzie, the mother. “I really do. I miss her so much.”

Ty’rah and nine-year-old Tarija both suffered severe smoke inhalation. Ty’rah had burns to 60 percent of her body. It was too much to overcome, and she passed away Tuesday night.

“For my baby's last breaths, I kissed her how she wanted to be kissed," said said Essie McKenzie. "I hugged her for a long time. I felt her. I felt she was ok.”

As upsetting as the family’s overwhelming grief is at losing the girl they say was the “spunky one,” comes also the pain of feeling judged on social media.

“I know there’s a lot of people being negative towards my sister, like, 'Why would she leave her kids in the car?’ - that type of stuff, but at the end of the day she’s a single mother that’s raising three kids by herself with no help,” said Alexis McKenzie, Essie’s sister.

Alexis McKenzie says Essie was on her way home from dropping her mother and older son at the airport. She had stopped to shop, just minutes from home. She says the girls were old enough to stay in their minivan alone. No one could foresee the vehicle next to them bursting into flames. When the fire broke out, the two girls were sleeping in the van.

“Give your babies kisses, hug them tight for me,” said Essie McKenzie. “Kiss them tight because you never know.”

The family is asking for prayers for Tarija, who is fighting hard.

Roberto Hipolito, the alleged driver of the van that started the fire had his first appearance in Anoka County Court Thursday morning. A judge set his bail at $150,000 with no conditions or $100,000 if he gives up his passport.

Hipolito, who was inside the Walmart when the fire started, is now charged with manslaughter and negligence. The 70-year-old is from California, but told police he travels the country for work. 

His next hearing is scheduled for September 5.