Two women and a teenage girl escaped from a burning two-story California home into the early morning darkness Saturday as flames and smoke engulfed both stories.
Then one of the women, Feda Almaliti, realized her 15-year-old son, Muhammed, who had autism, was still inside, according to a release from the Fremont Fire Department.
She dashed back inside the burning home to look for him. Neither emerged.
Firefighters in Fremont, a San Francisco Bay Area community, arrived a few minutes later and found Feda and Muhammed Almaliti together in a second-floor bedroom, the release says.
“She was embracing Muhammed,” said friend Sarah Trautman, KTVU reported.
Both had life-threatening injuries and were pronounced dead at a local hospital, firefighters say.
“This is a tragic and heartbreaking incident,” Fire Chief Curtis Jacobson said in the release. “Feda Almaliti courageously risked her life to save her son’s. Her actions were selfless and valiant.”
Feda Almaliti was nationally known as an advocate for people with autism, KTVU reported. Trautman said the 43-year-old and her son were inseparable.
“Muhammed was the center of her universe,” Trautman said, according to the station. “There is no way that she — she couldn’t exist in a world without him, and he couldn’t exist in a world without her.”
The other woman and teenage girl, identified by the family as Feda Almaliti’s sister and niece, were taken to a hospital with non life-threatening injuries, The Mercury News reported.
A firefighter also was treated and released for minor injuries while battling the 1:44 a.m. blaze, which took firefighters about 25 minutes to extinguish, the release says.
The cause of the fire, which began in a first-floor kitchen, remains under investigation, fire officials say.
The deaths of Feda and Muhammed Almaliti are the first fire-related deaths since 2010 in Fremont, which has a population of 287,000.
This story has been updated with a photograph of the Sept. 26 fire.