Hurricane Shutters Were Factor In Florida House Fire That Killed Five

Four Homestead children and their stepfather who were killed early Thursday by a fast-spreading house fire had no chance to escape because the windows of their duplex were still boarded up after recent hurricane warnings.


Neighbors said the family had been living at the duplex, 449 NW Fourth Ave., for about a year. All four children in the fire were from Claudene Shannon's previous marriage to Johnny C. Taylor, who is serving time in prison on a sex charge conviction.

Ashley and Sharania were seventh-graders at Homestead Middle School, said Principal Vanessa Strickland. Jonathon was at J.R.E. Lee Opportunity School, an alternative school in South Miami.

The oldest, Johnny, was scheduled to attend Homestead Senior High this year but never showed up, said Miami-Dade school district spokesman John Schuster. Johnny, who was recently injured in a fall, walked with crutches.

Neighbors said the family appeared to be struggling financially.

POWER CUT OFF

The Shannons' electricity was shut off Wednesday afternoon because they wrote a check on a closed bank account, said city spokeswoman Lillian Delgado.

The family opened the account in February, but began missing payments in May, Delgado said. ''Someone made a partial payment and the power was supposed to be reconnected Thursday morning,'' Delgado said.

Neighbors who share the duplex said they heard the popping of glass -- apparently the windows breaking from the fire's heat -- around 1:30 a.m.

Opening his front door, William Hanna saw flames shooting out of the apartment next door. He said he ``heard no sound, scream or hollering.''

''They were huge red flames,'' said Hana, whose adjoining duplex is now condemned.

His daughter, Loretta Hanna, called 911.

By 1:43 a.m., Miami-Dade firefighters had arrived.

They used a power saw to pry open the wrought-iron gate at the entrance and started pulling out victims, one by one.

''They were in their night clothes and boxer shorts,'' Loretta Hanna said of the victims.

One of the Taylor girls, Ashley, was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital but died on the way there.

`MY GOD, FIVE PEOPLE'

Hours later in the daylight, William Hanna was overwhelmed by emotion.

''Five people died; my God, five people,'' he said.

Mildred Jones, the children's paternal grandmother, said she went to Homestead Hospital in the middle of the night to tell Claudene Shannon what had happened.

''She could tell by the look in my face that something was wrong,'' Jones said.

' `Did something happen to my kids?' Claudene asked. I said, 'I think four of them are dead.' She went hysterical.''

At daybreak, Jones made a trip to a prison in Florida City to give the news to her son.

''He could barely stand the news,'' she said.

On Thursday afternoon, Claudene Shannon returned to the burned-out husk where her children died.

Weeping, she walked though the duplex and tried to salvage some of her childrens' belongings. She declined to speak to reporters.

'She took some of her daughters' clothing and her son's bike,'' said neighbor Mirian Bonilla. ``I guess she wants them as mementos.''

Some who knew the victims came by to pay their respects. They left flowers and stuffed toys by the door.

The Red Cross plans to pay for the funerals.

The charity also plans to give Shannon food for her and her baby daughter, as well as help finding a new home.

The duplex has been condemned.

''Ninety percent of the time, the victims call us for help, but today, we saw it on the news and went directly to the house,'' said Elda Sanchez, manager of the Red Cross' South Dade branch.

``Who can call us? Everybody died. It's terrible.''