Boy, 3, killed in Tacoma fire remembered as ‘talkative, playful’

Nehemiah Bonds is seen in a family photo. Nehemiah, 3, died Wednesday in a South Tacoma house fire.
Nehemiah Bonds is seen in a family photo. Nehemiah, 3, died Wednesday in a South Tacoma house fire. Courtesy

A small makeshift memorial to 3-year-old Nehemiah Bonds sits in front of his burned-out South Tacoma home.

Family, friends and strangers put a pair of teddy bears, some balloons and several flowers along the fence outside the home.

There’s also a cross that says “R.I.P. Nemo” and a stuffed clownfish from the “Finding Nemo” movie.

Known by his nickname, the boy was identified Thursday as the child killed Wednesday afternoon in a fire at the duplex in the 6400 block of South Tyler Street.

“He was a happy little boy,” said Nicole Johnson, his mother’s cousin. “Just happy, that’s all I can say — very talkative, playful.”

Tacoma Fire Department investigators returned Thursday to examine the scene and interview witnesses to help determine what caused the fire.

The investigation likely will take until next week to finish, Tacoma Fire spokesman Joe Meinecke said.

When the fire started, Nemo was home with his mother, Shanika Bonds. A bystander saw the blaze and called 911 about 3:45 p.m.

Duncan Hamlin was walking through the neighborhood at the time and ran to help.

“I saw that the mother was dragged out by another man, and she was crying hysterically,” he said. “She was just saying, ‘My baby’s in there! My baby’s in there!’ 

Hamlin said he tried to enter the home to find the boy, but smoke and heat beat him back.

Firefighters later found the boy’s body.

Bonds was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle to be treated for burns and smoke inhalation and was released, her family said.

“I know she does have some injuries,” Johnson said. “We’re focused on her emotional state.”

Bonds and three of her children lived in the duplex. Seven people were displaced from both units, as well as a house next door that had fire damage.

All of their belongings were destroyed in the fire, said Shajuanda Tate, Bonds’ sister.

Family members have started a fund at KeyBank in Nemo’s name to help pay for his burial. The family plans to hold a candlelight vigil in his honor about 8 p.m. Saturday at the house, Tate said.

KIRO-TV contributed to this report.

Kenny Ocker: 253-597-8627, @KennyOcker