An early morning fire at a rundown apartment complex in Starkville, Mississippi claimed the lives of nine people including a black lesbian couple and their children. Several other family members, who were taken in because they had nowhere else to go, also perished in the blaze.
The victims were 25-year-old India Williams, her three children, her cousin, 18-year-old Castella Bell, and Bell's three children. The ninth victim was a friend, 20-year-old Lakesha Gillespie. The children ranged in age from 6 months to 6 years old. Williams and Gillespie were a couple, reports the Times Picayune. .
Investigators did not know what caused the blaze, though they did not suspect it was set. Several neighbors said the apartments in the Academy Crossing complex had electrical problems, though complex owner Mildred Rollins said she was not aware of any such problems. She would not comment further.
Neighbors said Williams, who worked at a Popeyes fast food restaurant, took in Bell and her children recently because they had fallen on hard times. They said Williams and Gillespie were a couple. "They were the kindest people who would not turn away a friend, especially when she had kids," Latasha Brown, who lives downstairs, said. Ramona Doss, who lives in another of the complex's six two-story red brick apartment buildings, said Williams would often bring her plates of home-cooked food, and Williams's children called her "Grandma" even though they are not related.
Investigators say the "aggressive" fire started about 4am in the living room. All of the victims died of apparent smoke inhalation, but, autopsies have been ordered on the adults. Authorities have ruled out arson or any criminal act, reports the Clarion Ledger. State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney tells the newspaper: "The neighbor heard screams. It's just horrible. We don't know if it started from Christmas decorations or using candles to heat or what."
The horrific fire has been described as "the worst tragedy" ever seen in the city of about 24,000 residents in eastern Mississippi, which is home to Mississippi State University.
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