Survivor Describes Chaos Amid Fatal Ohio School Off-Campus House Fire

OXFORD, Ohio (AP) -- One of the people who escaped an off-campus house fire that killed three Miami University students said he awoke to complete chaos.

''It was just kind of panic immediately. People were coming out of every bedroom. Nobody really knew where anybody else was,'' said Jared Henry, a 22-year-old senior. ''There was smoke everywhere and you couldn't see anybody. It was black. You could hear somebody yelling 'Help.'''

Henry said his roommate, Scott Levit, shook him awake. They and another housemate used a fire escape to get down from the second floor, Henry said.

Fire officials said another survivor, 22-year-old Patrick Connell, tried to awaken one of the women who died before he jumped out of a second-floor window, suffering minor injuries.

Julia Turnbull, 21, of Milford, Ohio, and Kathryn Welling, 21, of Bronxville, N.Y., died of carbon monoxide inhalation in beds in separate, second-floor bedrooms, fire Chief Len Endress said. He doubts they ever woke up.

The third victim, 22-year-old Stephen Smith, had single-handedly stopped two scoring drives in a club rugby game the day before.

All the more reason his coach found it hard to take that the strapping senior's body was found near the front door, a few feet from safety.

''I can't make peace with that because if there was anybody I figured would break through that door, it would've been him,'' said coach Kevin Kittredge.

Smith apparently was shaken awake by a housemate and made it down a flight of stairs before becoming disoriented in the smoke, Endress said.

Autopsy results for Smith, of Bethesda, Md., are expected Tuesday, Butler County Coroner Richard Burkhardt said.

Endress said investigators believe 11 people were in the house when the fire started.

The house is in a neighborhood of older homes surrounded by large trees a few blocks from the campus, about 30 miles northwest of Cincinnati.

Students stunned by the deaths held moments of silence in classes Monday and walked quietly on the normally buzzing college quad.

Smith and Turnbull were to graduate next month; Welling was a junior.

Mourners stopped by the house throughout the day Monday, some crying and hugging each other. Students piled flowers outside the house. The school planned a remembrance service for Tuesday night.

Fire investigators had not determined what caused the fire.

Chris Grutsch, a Miami senior who lived at the house, was walking home from a party when he saw a police car and fire truck race past him. He said he sprinted to the house fearing the worst.

''I kind of freaked out,'' he said. ''I ran toward the house. A cop stopped me from going in ... it went up so fast.''

Investigators believe the fire started accidentally in the living room or a recreation room on the first floor, Endress said. The house, built in the late 1800s, was in compliance with fire safety codes, said Endress and a spokesman for the rental company that managed the home.

Authorities said resident Sebastian Barsh called on his cell phone to report the fire just after escaping through his first-floor bedroom window.

''There's still somebody inside, I think,'' Barsh says on the 911 tape.

Friends recalled Smith as thoughtful and mature despite a playful streak. Kittredge, the rugby coach, said he once lectured his players about the need to improve their speed. Smith nodded in agreement, then showed up the next day wearing a cap bearing the winged-foot symbol of Mercury, the Roman god of speed.

''He goes, 'I'm faster now, coach,''' Kittredge said, managing a laugh.

Turnbull's father said his daughter called the family Thursday to say she had gotten a post-graduation job. She seemed to know everybody when he visited her at Miami.

''We would walk across campus and she would introduce me to every single person that walked by,'' Doug Turnbull said.

Welling was to leave next month for a six-week study-abroad program in Luxembourg.

''All of her friends said she had to go on this trip and she was finally getting a chance to go,'' said Jay Kayne, a business professor.

Adam Morris, a sophomore who lives on West Withrow Street, across from the house, said the blaze prompted him to buy a smoke detector.

''I'm putting it right above my bed,'' he said.