Fire kills 5 children left home alone

A fire roared through a wood-frame house early Monday, killing five of six young children who officials said had been left home alone, and police have charged the children’s two mothers.

THE CAUSE of fire was not immediately known.

The children ranged in age from 1½ to 10, Yazoo County Coroner Ricky Shivers said. No adults were in the home when the fire broke out, he said.

Police Chief Mike Wallace said Clara Bell and Eugenia Bell, sisters and mothers of the children, were each charged with five counts of negligent manslaughter and one count of felony child neglect. The two were in jail pending a bond hearing.

The fire erupted shortly after midnight, gutting the single-story house and shooting flames and thick, black smoke into the sky.

Neighbors discovered the burning home and saw a boy trying to punch out a window. A woman smashed the window with a chair, according to witness Christopher Burnett.

“The kid was just there, right there at the window, so we just pulled him out,” said the woman, Cynthia Brown, 26. She said another man, 19-year-old Antowain Johnson, “tried to go back in and get the rest of them but the smoke wouldn’t let him.”

Officials said the 9-year-old, Alfred Bell, was taken to a Jackson hospital but wasn’t believed to be seriously injured.

Shivers initially released the names of the dead at the scene and later revised the spellings after checking records. He identified them as Devunte Bell, 10; Takiesha Bell, 3; William Bell, 1½; Kayla Williams, 7; and Tytianna Bell, 4.

Katie Bell, the children’s grandmother, said Eugenia Bell had come to her home and told her, “My baby is dead” and confirmed that neither she nor her sister had been home when the fire started.

Dorothy Bell, another relative, said Clara Bell was the mother of five of the children, including the survivor, and Eugenia Bell was the mother of the fifth victim.

Witnesses said Eugenia Bell returned home after the fire appearing distraught.

Police Chief of Detectives Eric Snow said the mothers were taken into custody following the fire. He declined to comment further.

The women could face a maximum 20-year sentence on each manslaughter charge and one year in prison on the neglect charge.

Dorothy Bell said both women and their children had recently moved into the house, which belonged to the mothers’ grandfather. Dorothy Bell said she had not talked with the women since the fire, and “I don’t want to talk to them. I’ve heard they weren’t there. Those were innocent kids, and now they are gone. Our family is really tore up.”

Brown said the children often came over to her house to play. She said at times the children were left unsupervised on weekends.

“I think that was real wrong,” she said.

Capt. Steve Williams, a 23-year veteran of the Yazoo City Fire Department, said he’s worked deadly fires before, but “when it involves children, you never get used to it.”

Yazoo City, a town of about 14,500, is 40 miles north of Jackson.

The fire happened days before a woman from nearby Tchula is to stand trial for manslaughter in the deaths of six children a year ago. Authorities said those children were left alone while their mother went to a nightclub.

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