The most deadly fire in Memphis in nearly a century ripped through a home in the southern part of the city Monday morning, killing nine people and leaving a single survivor — a boy clinging to his life at a children’s hospital.
The family was trapped, investigators think, by security bars on the windows and a living-room fire that blocked the home’s only escape routes.
Someone inside the house dialed 911 at 1:23 a.m. Monday, Memphis Fire Services Lt. Wayne Cooke told The Washington Post. The caller said the home was on fire and the family had no way out.
Firefighters arrived at the home on Severson Avenue four minutes later, but it was too late. Investigators said most of the victims were overcome by smoke, although some had burns. Firefighters pulled the bodies of seven people out of the home, laying them on the front lawn.
Three other people were rushed to the hospital, but two died. The surviving child, a boy, was in critical condition, Cooke said.
According to the Commercial Appeal, family members identified the adult victims as Carol Collier, 56; LaKisha Ward, 27, and Eloise Futrell, 61. The family identified the children as Angel Mitchell, 17; Ernest Jett III, 9; Diamond Jett, 8, Alonzo Ward, 7; Kierra Jett, 5; Precious Rose Jett, 2 or 3.
The survivor, Cameron Hollingsworth, who is 7 or 8, is in the hospital.
“They are all gone,” Futrell’s niece, Elisa Weathersby, told the Tennessean. “Our hearts are ripped in two.”
Veronica Trammell, Cameron’s grandmother, was interviewed by local TV stations when she received a phone call from Cameron’s father, who was at the hospital.
“Hold his hand until I get there, I’m coming,” she told the man. “Stay there. I’m coming. I’m on my way.”
Later, she asked the community to pray.
“Just keep us in your prayers that he keeps fighting and that at least one of us survives and make it a little bit further,” she said. “Just one is better than none at all.”
Later Monday, neighbors stood by watching as fire officials went about the house, according to the Associated Press. The house was cordoned off by yellow crime scene tape, the AP reported. A red motorized children’s toy truck and a red bicycle with no wheels sat outside the home.
Felecia Wallace, 34, told the AP that she has known the family since she was in elementary school. She said she once needed bus fare to get to work and someone who lived in the house just gave it to her.
“This is a loving family,” Wallace said. “If you needed anything, you could come right here. If you were hungry, you could come right here. If you needed a place to sleep, you could come right here.”
Memphis Fire Services Director Gina Sweat said the responding firefighters were also “deeply touched” by the death toll.
“You could see the heavy in their hearts and you could feel the pain in their eyes,” she said. “We are trained to be strong in the face of adversity and human loss, but we are also fathers, sons, mothers, daughters and grandparents.”
Neighbors said they witnessed similar intense emotions from firefighters.
“I’ve never seen firemen cry,” Shondra Hampton, whose family lives next door, told the Commercial Appeal. “But they were bawling like babies when they brought the children out.”