Neighbors reunite with mom who threw babies from 3rd floor window to escape fire

A January 10, 2020 fire extensively damaged units at Pangea Prairies Apartments near 46th & Arlington. (WTHR photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - A mother who was forced to toss her two babies from a burning apartment building has been reunited with neighbors who helped save them.

Giovanni Campbell returned to the Pangea Prairies Apartments Tuesday with her son De'Moni, 3, and daughter Lyla, 7 months.

​Campbell was met by two of her neighbors, Heather Denning and Derrick Smith, Sr.​, who came to her rescue that night.

​"I really do appreciate that, from the bottom of my heart, I really do appreciate y'all," Campbell said.​

​Campbell and her neighbors say they will never forget the night of Jan.10.​

​"I opened the door and it was completely black. I could not get out," said Campbell.​

​Her only option was to escape through her third floor window.​

​"My babies, I had to throw them out the window. It was scary. I did see (Derrick). I told my mother, he caught my daughter and I really wanted to reach out to him," said Campbell.​

​Smith lived on the bottom floor. ​

​"I started to smell smoke. I go in the kitchen and the fire starts coming from my cabinets and my walls. I run out and get the fire extinguisher, pulled the pin and it didn't work," said Smith.​

​He then ran and yelled for everyone to get out of the building.​

​"I ran back in to try to save (Campbell) on the third floor, but the smoke got so intense that I couldn't see anything," said Smith.​

​Heather Denning was one of 12 people who dialed 911 and helped catch Campbell's babies. ​

​"Everybody outside started yelling to let her know that there was a fire. She said she went to the living room and I guess about that time, the propane tank on the backside exploded, so her living room was on fire," said Denning. ​

​Denning says people huddled beneath Campbell's window, encouraging her to toss her babies as they would catch them.​

​"I'm panicking, but my motherly instincts kicked in," said Campbell.​

​Campbell tossed her daughter Lyla out first. Smith caught her. Denning put her in a warm vehicle.​

​"My son was looking at me like, 'You just threw my sister out the window.' I said, 'No it's a fire baby. We have to go.' He looked at me like' 'Oh my God,'" said Campbell. ​

​Another neighbor caught De'Moni. Then it was Campbell's turn to jump into the arms of safety below. ​

​"That was the best fast-mom-instinct that she could have ever done, and all I could think was they better catch her," said Denning.​

​Days after the fire, neighbors say there's another problem. ​Before the building was boarded up, someone went inside and stole much of their belongings, including electronics, kids toys, even their identification cards.​

​"Half of my stuff is missing. (Management) didn't try to relocate me. They told me they're not going to re-sign me, I had to go," said Smith. ​

​Smith says management reportedly didn't give him a reason why.​

​Denning says she and her family are staying at a hotel and are awaiting approval to move into a home.​

​"My 3-year old keeps asking, 'Mommy, when can we go back home?' It's kind of emotional to tell her there's no home anymore. We lost everything," said Denning.​

​As for Campbell, she says she and her babies will move into another Pangea apartment. The task now, she says, is to try and start over. ​

​"Our life savings, everything burned up in that apartment. You would never think something like that would happen, so this has really humbled us," said Campbell. ​

​Eyewitness News reached out to Pangea Prairie management, but our calls went unanswered. ​

According to an Indianapolis Fire Department spokesperson, due to the structural instability of the building, the investigation was turned over to Pangea's insurance company investigators.​

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