CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two toddlers died in an early-morning house fire in west Charlotte this weekend and now their mother is charged in their deaths.
Police said 26-year-old Orgal Paulette Opata left four children under the age of seven home alone at their house on Rowan Street early Sunday morning.
The youngest of those children was barely old enough to walk.
Opata is now charged with two counts of murder for her two youngest children, who couldn't get out of the house. Josiah Hawthorne, 2, and Gabriel Hawthorne, 14 months, died in the fire.
Neighbors said they don't know where Opata was at that hour -- firefighters responded just after 6 a.m. -- but they did their best to save the children's lives.
"I was sleeping upstairs, right there, and I heard kids crying, 'Momma, Momma, Momma!'" said Elizabeth Lane.
Lane saved two of the children from the house fire.
"I ran over there, and the kids was right at the door, and the fire was blazing, and I pulled them two out," said Lane.
The oldest, a 7-year-old girl, begged Lane to save her baby brothers. Lane said the flames were too high to go back.
"I got them two out and little girl kept saying, 'My brother!' and I kept saying, 'Honey, we have to go. I can't get your brothers,'" Lane said.
Another neighbor who tried to comfort the children is haunted by the oldest daughter's words.
"The little girl was saying, 'I begged my mommy not to leave,'" recalled the neighbor.
Police said the four children had been left alone. "She said, 'Mommy please don't leave us here,'" the neighbor said.
And no one but neighbors were there to pull them out.
"I think that's so sad, that little girl. She is never going to forget that," continued the neighbor.
A sad loss for a family -- and for neighbors who wish they could have done more.
"It just hurts, just feels really bad," said Lane. "Just sad, sad."
Opata is also charged with reckless/gross felony abuse, exposing children to fire and one count of burning resulting in serious injury to a firefighter.
Jail records show Opata was arrested in October for three counts of contributing to the delinquency or neglect of a juvenile.
The Charlotte Fire Department says the fire started from a kerosene heater and has been ruled accidental.