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Hope for 14-year-old Lockport boy flickers as coroner works to identify body

LOCKPORT – The fire is out, and the firefighters have gone home, but there is still a 14-year-old boy missing and a mother hoping the charred remains removed from smoldering debris Friday are not her son’s.

Ann Phillips is holding out hope that her son Joe will come home to their white, three-story Oliver Street home. He has not been seen since Wednesday evening, just before a fire broke out at HTI Recyling a mile away on Stevens Street, and before he reportedly made a panicked phone call to a friend, gasping, “I can’t get out.”

Ann Phillips said she will assume her son is alive until someone gives her reason not to.

“We don’t even know if he’s dead yet,” she said. “We don’t know it’s him. Nothing has been confirmed.”

Still, as she stood in her doorway, dogs barking and a tinsel cross dangling from the door, she referred to her son in the past tense.

“He was a good boy,” she said. “I know everyone says that, but he really was. He did stupid things, but who doesn’t?”

Phillips’ neighbors expressed their sorrow for the family and made gestures of support. They said they hope the boy is still alive, but as news of the recovered body spread, they felt less optimistic.

Nick Stover lives a couple of houses down from the Phillips family. He said he will mow the family’s lawn and his mother will make them stromboli. They feel compelled to help in any way they can, he said.

“I can’t begin to imagine how you deal with a tragedy like that,” he said.

A half-mile away at La Port’s Pine Restaurant, a family diner, much of the talk has centered on concern for the missing boy.

Amy Bierzynski’s nephew Noah had gone to school with Joe Phillips since first grade. They are supposed to start high school together this fall.

“It’s devastating,” she said. “I feel so bad for the family. As a mother, I can only imagine what she’s going through.”

Confirmation of the identity of the body is not expected until Monday, according to Niagara County Coroner Kenneth Lederhouse, who said he will obtain dental records to aid the identification process.


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