Mother Speaks To Media; 2nd Child Remains In Hospital Fighting For Life

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The mother of a two little girls severely burned in a parking lot fire says her surviving daughter is fighting with all she’s got.

Meanwhile, 70-year-old Roberto Hipolito is charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of negligently causing a fire. He made his first appearance in Anoka County Court Thursday morning.

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According to the criminal complaint, Hipolito told police he and his wife had parked in the Fridley Walmart parking lot and slept overnight in their van. Hipolito used a hot stove and didn’t allow it to cool before he left it in his van and went into the store. The van then caught fire, and also spread to another vehicle with two young sisters inside.

Six-year-old Ty’rah White died later that night.

“She fought a good fight, she really did,” Ty’rah’s mother, Essie McKenzie, said. “I just really miss her. I really do.”

McKenzie spoke at Hennepin County Medical Center Thursday, where her other daughter, 9-year-old Taraji, is in critical condition with serious smoke inhalation injuries, as well as burns to her body.

“It’s a long road ahead for Taraji, because she doesn’t know too much about what’s going on, until she wakes up and sees her reality now,” McKenzie said.

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McKenzie said she left the girls in the vehicle because they were asleep and she did not want to wake them for running to get something.



A GoFundMe was created for the family of the victims.

In court Thursday, Hipolito’s bail was set at $150,000 unconditional or $100,000 conditional, but has to surrender his passport. Prosecutors had expressed concern that he could flee the country.

Following the court appearance, the county attorney said in a statement: “Our hearts are with the family of these children and to the child who remains in critical condition. While we cannot undo the carelessness that led to this tragedy, we can pursue justice and demand accountability.”

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Hipolito’s next court appearance is September 5.