Bars Prevented Oklahoma City Victims Escape From Deadly Fire

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Heavy metal burglar bars installed to protect a family from crime apparently trapped them inside their burning home, fire officials said Monday.

Jack and Connie Somers-Wilder, their three children and a teenage neighbor weren't able to escape the heavy smoke and intense heat Sunday that destroyed the southeast-side house.

Firefighters found the couple, their children, Daneel, 19, Leisylle, 17, and Aimy, 11, and neighbor Kayla Hayes, 15, in the house's garage.

Hayes, who had spent the night at the Somers-Wilder home, lived down the street.

Neighbors who tried in vain to rip the bars from the house's windows said they heard the victims crying out for help.

``According to the 911 tape it sounds like they had all gathered together and were attempting to find a way out,'' said Fire Maj. Brian Stanaland. The 911 dispatchers tried to help the family escape the home, but they apparently only got as far as the garage, Stanaland said.

The only exit that was not barred was the front door. Because the fire started at the front of the house, the family was not able to escape, he said.

``There are no codes regulating burglar bars on single family homes,'' said Stanaland. ``The bars on this home were simply bolted to the wall.''

He added that only multi-occupancy apartments, such as businesses or apartment buildings, are required to have quick-release openings.

``The fire department is opposed to the use of any kind of bars, but if people feel like they have to have them for protection, they need to have the quick-release kind,'' said Stanaland.

There have been 14 crimes within a half-mile of the residence reported in the past year, crime statistics show. The majority of the crimes were burglary, robbery and items stolen from cars.

The Somers-Wilder children were home schooled, but Hayes, attend Classen School of Advanced Studies.

``We have three counselors already assigned to the school. The principal had a staff meeting the first thing this morning and counselors are on alert for any student who may need to talk,'' said Sherry Fair, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City School District.

Students and staff observed a moment of silence for the fire victims, Fair said.

On the marquee of the Wendy's restaurant on S.W. 74th Street and Kentucky, employees said their final farewell to Daneel Somers-Wilder.

Daneel Somers-Wilder had worked for Wendy's for three years, said Jeff Kiehlmeir, the general manager.

``He really liked working with people. He wasn't very interested in management, because he was so involved in his church and other activities, so we used him to train new employees.''

Kiehlmeir said during one of the last conversations he had with Daneel Somers-Wilder, the young man said he was looking forward to his upcoming church mission work that would last two or three years.

``But he told me if returned to Oklahoma he would look me up and maybe come back to work again at Wendy's,'' said Kiehlmeir.

District Fire Chief Rick Yarbrough said it may take several days to pinpoint the fire's cause

Yarbrough said the fire caused about $65,000 in damage.