Fire kills three toddlers home alone

Published 9:56 am Monday, November 7, 2011

A house fire on First Street Wednesday night killed three small children age 2 and under. Police said no adults were home at the time.

As a crowd gathered in a field across from a house ablaze on First Street Wednesday evening, firefighters pulled three small children unconscious from the house.

While police pushed the onlookers farther from the burning scene, word spread of the three small victims.

“Oh my God, there are babies,” someone murmured in the crowd.

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Rescue workers tried to revive the children — 3-year-old girls Aniyia and Takayiah Abner and 21-month-old Michael Coleman — but they were later pronounced dead at Atmore Community Hospital.

Firefighters had arrived shortly before 8 p.m. to find the home engulfed in flames — and the three children inside, left home alone.

Firefighters believe that the toddlers died by smoke inhalation, but the children did have burns on their bodies. All were unconscious when they were taken from the house.

The children’s mothers, twin 18-year-olds Akeevia and Tekeevia Abner, were not in the home at the time of the fire. The women’s father, Anthony Coley, said one of his daughters was making a phone call at a near by home when the fire broke out.

The house, located at 156 First St., belongs to Betty Harris, the aunt of the women. Harris was at work at the time of the fire.

Firefighters were able to quickly locate all three children and retrieve them from the home. With Atmore Ambulance Service en route, firefighters performed CPR on the children, but were ultimately unable to resuscitate them.

Officers at the scene said a woman tried to enter the house when she returned to find it engulfed in flames, but firefighters held her back.

Coley was part of the mass of neighbors and friends watching in helpless horror as Wednesday night’s tragic events unfolded. He said the feeling of inability to help his grandchildren was overwhelming.

“It was like, just nothing I could do,” Coley said. “I was just hoping (the firefighters) could save them.”

Atmore firefighter Brandon Barber responded to the scene on his day off. He said attempting to deal with the loss of children takes its toll, even on those trained to handle such events.

“It’s hard to deal with,” Barber said. “But you’ve got to try and look at like, we’ve got a job to do.”

Barber said the incident was particularly hard to bear, especially for first responders who are parents.

“I’ve got a daughter,” he said. “And when you’ve got your own kids and you have to pull kids out of these houses, it’s a little bit different.”

Family members who lived in the house are now staying with other relatives, local Red Cross officials said.

Coley said the family has not yet finalized plans for a service for the children, but added tentative plans are to hold one memorial service for all three victims later next week.

Coley said in the days following the fire he has been forced to play dual roles – comforting his grieving daughters while also mourning the loss of his grandchildren.

“As a father and as a grandfather, I’m just torn,” he said. “This has been very, very hard on the girls. These are two 18-year-old girls that are going through this. They are taking this very hard, and we’re just trying to be there as a family to get these girls through this.”