Liam Doherty, originally from Tempo, County Fermanagh, desperately attempted to save his son, Thomas Doherty, from the basement of their burning home in the Laurel Springs area of Philadelphia in the early hours of Wednesday, July 8, but was unable.
Doherty, who moved to the U.S. with his wife and children in the 1990s, suffers from multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair.
Doherty was the first in the family to become aware of the blaze around 6 a.m. on Wednesday. He immediately tried to break the window of his son’s basement bedroom and shouted loudly in an attempt to wake Thomas up.
Some time later, Doherty’s wife and Thomas’ mother could be heard screaming as her son was placed on a stretcher, his clothes badly burned.
Witnesses at the scene said firefighters first rescued Conway and then returned for Thomas, who was trapped in the room for approximately 30 minutes. Conway was airlifted to Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Laurel Springs Police Chief Michael Wolcott said that officers arrived at 6:14 a.m. and were able to break the window but that the opening was too small for Thomas to fit through. A policeman got as far as the bedroom door, but his oxygen ran out so he had to turn back again.
Doherty, his wife and their two other children, Michael, 18, and Erin, 13, were treated at Kennedy Medical Center in Stratford for chest pains, smoke inhalation and shock.
It is believed the fire began in the basement laundry room right beside the bedroom where Thomas and Conway were sleeping. The couple was trapped in the room as it filled with smoke. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
“I could see smoke pouring out the windows and hear the father yelling," said a neighbor, who woke about 6:10 a.m. to the sound of fire alarms from the Doherty household.
Thomas worked with his dad in the family business, LTD Construction. He was an avid drummer and loved going to concerts.
A neighbor who lives across the street, Lloyd Shaw, descried the Irish family as “close-knit.”
“Liam, the father, is just an incredible person,” Shaw said. “He has multiple sclerosis and has lost the use of his legs, but the family still had their own construction company.”
Shaw called Thomas “an incredible kid.”
“They tried to get him out of the window, but he was too big. They did CPR on him, but it didn't work. It's just awful.”
Doherty’s relatives from County Tyrone flew to Philadelphia to be with the family last week.
Chairman of the local Tempo Maguires GAA club, Peter Bogue, also traveled to Philadelphia to present a special jersey to Doherty, who played football with them before moving to the U.S. during the 1990s to start a new life.
Doherty’s relationship with the club remained strong. In February he returned to Tyrone for the club’s 100-year anniversary ball.
Said Bogue, “It is just unfair.”
“They are a very nice family and were home for a gala ball at the club in February to mark 100 years of the first activity at Tempo,” he said.
“Thomas was here also with Michael and Erin. I have visited them and Liam still advertises his company on the hoarding on the pitch.”
Thomas Doherty was buried on Tuesday, July 14.