Little DJ will always been remembered in the Johnson family as the angel who saved their lives.
The toddler alerted his mom and baby sister to a house fire – but died after running back through the flames to hide in his bedroom.
His mother Whitney Johnson, 26, from Kentucky, had fallen asleep on the sofa.
Tragedy struck when her heater exploded and sparked an inferno. Her two-year-old son DJ and five-week-old Nyla were inside the home.
The smoke detector in their apartment failed.
It was only when DJ woke up and shouted for his mommy that Whitney stirred to find her living room burning.
The HR worker grabbed her son’s hand and scooped up baby Nyla.
She bravely ran through roaring flames to the front door in a bid to escape.
But as she turned the key in the lock she was forced to let go of DJ for a split second.
The frightened toddler raced back to his bedroom to hide.
Whitney – unable to find her terrified tot in the smoke and fire – was forced to make the decision to leave him behind and save Nyla, whose scalp was melting.
After handing her daughter to a neighbor she fearlessly went back into her burning home for DJ .
But sadly she could not find him. DJ he died from smoke inhalation after climbing into his bed.
Despite being in shock, Whitney managed to sound the alarm in her apartment block.
Her actions allowed 30 other residents to evacuate safely.
Recalling the event, which happened in 2015, the grieving mom said: ‘DJ is my hero. If it wasn’t for him yelling for me, we definitely would not be here.’
‘When I woke up, all I remember is flames everywhere and pitch black smoke. It was like something out of the movies.’
‘We all got up and headed towards the front door to get out.’
‘We ran through fire and I guess that scared DJ. I remember looking back and thinking, ‘This is it, we are all going to die.’
‘I had my newborn in one arm and I tried to open the front door and had to let go of my son’s arm to do that.’
‘He ran directly to his room and shut his door. He was coughing and yelling for me and I was trying to look for him but couldn’t see him through the black smoke and flames.’
‘I tried to get myself to him but I couldn’t find him and I tried to open the door but at first I couldn’t.’
‘I looked at my daughter and her scalp was melting and that forced me out. I was able to open the door and got everyone out of the entire building.’
At that point getting my son out was all that was on my mind. I tried to run back into the apartment but it was in flames.’
The blaze was initially blamed on a something being left on the stove, but further inquiries traced the source to a space heater plugged in in the living room.
An electrical fault in the device caused an arc event which triggered an explosion.
The fire started at around 1.45am on November 20, 2015.
Whitney was left with burns to 29 per cent of her body and Nyla, now aged two, with 19 per cent burns.
The pair both spent two months in hospital before being discharged.
They still bear the scars, with Nyla – who continues to undergo therapy – has even been branded a ‘baby Freddy Krueger’ by strangers because of hers.
Whitney, whose eldest son Braylen, eight, was not home at the time of the fire, said she wears a ‘mask of happiness’ but suffers anxiety.
The mom, who is now pregnant with her fourth child, said: ‘People in public say things. Little kids will usually act scared of Nyla like she is a monster but adults are the worst.’
‘She has been called a baby Freddy Krueger and strangers online have told me I should have died in the fire and that it was my fault I didn’t save my son.’
‘That really bothers me because I am angry at myself for not saving DJ. I’m supposed to be his protector and I wasn’t able to be there.’
‘A lot of people thought I could just go around and smash through the window to get him, but the apartment was on the second floor.’
‘I cry when I read through those comments but those people have never been in my shoes. There was absolutely nothing I could have done.’
‘Now I try to raise awareness about fire safety through my social media, encouraging people to have a safety plan and to teach their kids not to run to their bedrooms.’