RIALTO - Police and fire officials are investigating a possible homicide after a woman's body was found in a burning apartment early Saturday that forced the evacuation of 90 tenants, authorities said.
Family members identified the deceased woman as 64-year-old Rosa "Rosita" Hernandez.
"She didn't deserve this gruesome way to die," said Hernandez's niece, Alma Trujillo, who lived in the complex along with a number of other family members.
Nearly a dozen family members, including Trujillo, her children and grandchildren, sat across the street early Saturday afternoon covered by blankets brought to them by Rialto firefighters and hoping to get some answers to what they feel was a senseless crime.
"She was the nicest lady," said Trujillo's 21-year-old son, George Bailon. "She never did anything to anyone. You'd always just see her outside watering the grass, saying hi to everyone."
Soon after the fire broke out shortly after 2 a.m. in the 600 block of South Riverside Avenue, neighbors smelled smoke and realized it was coming from Hernandez's downstairs apartment, according to Trujillo and initial fire dispatch reports.
"The neighbors went and pulled her out," a still stunned Trujillo said.
She wasn't aware there was a fire or that her aunt had been hurt until Rialto officers knocked on her door and told Trujillo and her family they had to evacuate the building.
As she and her family, including small children still in diapers, were escorted out of the complex, they had to walk past Hernandez's body.
"I just saw her right there," Trujillo said. "I thought so many things and didn't know what to think. I can't believe anyone would do something like this to her."
Forty firefighters fought the blaze, containing it to the one apartment. The complex was completely evacuated because the site was being treated as a crime scene.
Little information was being released on the death investigation, although family members say it doesn't appear she died as a result of the fire.
"When my auntie and her niece took over the apartment, they really cleaned it up," Trujillo said. "They came in and started changing the place. They kicked people out and did other things to make the place better. That's the only reason I decided to move here because the cops used to be here all the time before they got here."
The American Red Cross was working on temporary shelter for the tenants. Rialto was placing some residents in the Johnson Community Center, 214 N. Palm Ave.