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A Mother, Wife Weeps: 'I Had a Great Family'

MORE INSIDE Dana Parsons: Fire Capt. Greg Boothe won't easily forget the scene he saw in Placentia. B3


Brandon, the oldest boy, was sensitive, studious and into sports. Connor, the second son, was outgoing and had a smile that filled his whole face. Jacob, the youngest, was already a bit of a ham.

And their "Papa," Donald Ybarra, was their hero right to the end, dying as he tried to save his children from the family's burning Placentia home late Monday night.

They were all Melodie Ybarra's boys, her best friends, her whole world. On Tuesday, with the tragic events of the previous night still surreal, a choked-up Ybarra spoke of the loved ones she lost in the fire.

"I had a great family," she said. "I want everyone to remember them."

Ybarra, who suffered burns on her back before escaping from the three-bedroom house on Joan Way, was recovering in her old bedroom at her mom's home in Fullerton. Still dressed in hospital scrubs and surrounded by friends and family, she wept as she spoke but remained composed, determined to share the good times rather than dwell on the pain.

Ybarra began dating Don nearly 20 years earlier. The two met on a Cal State Fullerton softball field, brought there by a mutual friend for a pickup game that never materialized because no one else showed up.

"He was special right from the start," she recalled.

Two years later, their friendship turned romantic. And after five years of dating, they got engaged, driving that same night to see the friend who introduced them, asking him to be their best man.

"We went to his house and threw rocks up at his window to get him to wake up so we could tell him," Ybarra said with a smile as she recalled getting ready for her April 1991 wedding.

Brandon arrived three years later. But if the doctors had had their way, he might have never been born. After Ybarra contracted chicken pox, they wanted to terminate the pregnancy. She refused.

"I said 'Wait a second, we're not getting rid of anyone.' They told me all the bad things that could have happened to him, like brain damage," she said. "We had a very scary pregnancy."

Ybarra said she named him Brandon because it included her husband's name.

"He not only turned out all right, he turned out perfect," Melodie's mother, Peggy Marek, said.

Brandon, 7, played soccer, baseball and basketball, with his dad coaching some of his teams. When he didn't have a game, he would spend Friday nights with his grandmother. They would rent Pokemon and Disney cartoons, then snuggle up and watch TV, munching on Cheese Nips, his favorite snack.

"I just got him this VCR so he could tape his cartoons," Marek said, tears welling up in her eyes. "He didn't get to use it."

Connor, 4, was nicknamed the "Town Crier" because of the way he would stand on the stoop of his home and call out to neighbors as they passed. In the last few weeks, he taught himself how to ride his bike without training wheels.

Jacob, 2, was Connor's best buddy. He recently had passed a couple of milestones: He stopped sleeping in his crib and was potty trained. He used to mimic the family dog, Summer Rain, to get attention.

"He would walk around on all fours, with his tongue wagging, and come up and lick you," Ybarra recalled. "He wouldn't say he was a doggy; he would just keep playing the part."

The boys idolized their father, the biggest kid of all. When neighbor children knocked on the door to ask if the Ybarra boys could play, Don would joke, "No, but I can."

After the Ybarras moved to Joan Way about four years ago, the cul-de-sac where they lived soon became a popular destination for the boys and girls who lived on the block and others surrounding it.

Don would teach the neighborhood kids how to play baseball and other sports. On New Year's Day, he and some other fathers rigged lights along the street, using Christmas tree stands, to illuminate an all-night roller-hockey game.

"I went to bed at 11:30, and they were still going," his wife recalled.

The two celebrated their 10-year anniversary with a trip to Ireland last April, trekking to the same church where her great-grandparents were married. At Christmas, Don tied a box on their Christmas tree as if it were an ornament and told her to open it. She thought it was a joke, but he surprised her with a silver bracelet with three charms. The first one read "I love you." The second was an airplane, to symbolize her work as a customer-service representative for Continental Airlines. The third said "No. 1 Mama." In between the charms were three silver hearts, with pictures of the kids inside.

She last saw her husband in the confusion of Monday night. He went upstairs and never came back down.

"He tried to save our kids. There's nothing that would have stopped him," she said, breaking down. "He was their idol. He was my hero. He was the best."

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