Deadly Greenfield house blaze struck in minutes
As two young cousins took an afternoon nap, the mother of one child slipped out to pick up her son at a bus stop down the street, leaving the little ones with an adult relative who was watching television.
Lawasso Johnson, 27, walked with her young son Vernon back to their Greenfield home on Friday afternoon, and Vernon noticed smoke, a family member said on Saturday.
“They ran up there and started hollering,” said Charles Green, 52, of Rankin, a cousin of the children's grandmother. “She wasn't gone more than three or four minutes. That's how fast that fire hit. It must have been some type of electrical thing.”
Authorities have not said what caused the blaze, but the children's deaths have been ruled accidental by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office.
Irihanna Hayward, who would have turned 4 on Saturday, and her cousin, Kamari Thomas, 4, died of acute smoke inhalation, the Medical Examiner's Office said.
The fire started on the first floor of the duplex on Mirror Street, authorities said.
Fire investigator Bryan Marrone said the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
The relative taking care of the children, Candice Pearson, jumped from a third-story window to a cement patio to escape the fire.
Pearson, 38, was undergoing surgery at UPMC Mercy, Uptown, Green said. She has back and neck injuries, he said, describing her condition as “touch and go.” A hospital official did not have information about Pearson.
Johnson, Irihanna's mother, posted on her Facebook page a picture of the girl beaming with a wide smile. Friends and relatives from as far away as California posted condolences and words of encouragement.
“Happy Birthday Baby now you and Papa can watch over the Family,” a cousin from Los Angeles posted.
The children and their mothers lived in the Mirror Street home with their grandmother, Teresa Hayward, whom Green described as the matriarch of the family and Pearson's aunt.
Neighbors described the family as private and quiet.
“They kept to themselves,” said Nancy Wright, who lives across the street. “We casually know them to say hello.”
Obbie Brown, Johnson's aunt in Los Angeles, said her niece wants to bury Irihanna in California but does not have the money to transport the body. Johnson grew up in California and has family there. Her family is trying to set up a fund to collect donations.
“She's very distraught,” Brown said. “She kept telling me, ‘I don't know what to do.'”
Green said he spoke to Hayward by phone but could hardly understand what she said because she was crying so much.
Funeral arrangements had not been made, he said. Hayward and the children's parents are staying at a hotel, he added.
“Everybody is taking it very hard,” he said. “They were good little kids.”
Luis Fábregas is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He canbe reached at 412-320-7998or firstname.lastname@example.org.