Seven Cleveland Children, Two Adults Killed in Blaze During Sleepover

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Media Carter's house in a low-income section of the city's east side was a place where neighborhood kids stopped by to chat and eat dinner. Friday night started that way: Friends of her children came over and decided to stay for a sleepover.

Eleven people were in the two-story rented house when fire erupted around 3 a.m. Saturday, killing seven children and two adults, Assistant Fire Chief Brent Collins said. All the victims -- including the 33-year-old Carter and four of her children -- were found dead on the second floor.

The initial investigation indicated the fire was not suspicious and appeared to be an accident, said Fire Chief Paul Stubbs, who refused to speculate on the cause.

People in the neighborhood where some houses have been refurbished and others boarded up respected Carter for offering children rides and hosting sleepovers. Carter's children usually made good grades, but she wasn't afraid to punish them if they didn't, they said.

''She took in kids; she loved kids. She took them out to dinner,'' said Patricia Ramsey, who used to live nearby and was part of a crowd of neighbors, friends and family that gathered near the scene as daylight broke.

Dozens hugged and cried in the morning air that still smelled like soot as they surveyed the damage to the 99-year-old home. Firefighters shoveled debris onto a small fenced front yard. The house's barred security door hung by one hinge.

''She was real respected. She treated me like a son,'' Devon Cabeza, 14, said of Carter.

He said he played basketball with one of the victims, an eighth-grade classmate. ''We begged our teacher to let us go to the gym to shoot around,'' he added.

Four of Carter's children, 15-year-old Davonte Carter, 13-year-old Moses Williams, 12-year-old Maleeya Williams and 7-year-old Fakih Jones, died in the fire, Collins said.

Also killed were Media Carter's 34-year-old sister Sheria Carter, and Sheria's son Antwone Jackson, 14, Collins said. He identified the other victims as Jackson's cousin Ernest Tate, 13, and a friend, 13-year-old Miles Cockfield.

Two other people at the house survived. One was in critical condition at a hospital and the other was treated for minor injuries.

The Cuyahoga County coroner, Dr. Elizabeth Balraj, identified the five teenage boys and Media Carter. The other victims died of smoke inhalation and burns, said Balraj, adding DNA tests would be needed for positive IDs.

Autopsies will be done on the other six victims Sunday, she said.

An investigation into the fire's cause centered on the house's first floor, which sustained heavy fire damage, Assistant Fire Chief Tim O'Toole said. The second floor was heavily damaged by smoke and soot, he said.

Much of the house's white, wooden frame was charred jet black and the roof over the front porch was partially collapsed. Every visible window had been knocked out by firefighters or shattered in the fire.

At an afternoon news conference outside the home, Mayor Jane Campbell said she had spoken with family members. ''The tragedy was so quick, so overwhelming, the only thing they have asked for at this point is please see if you can figure out how this happened and offer your prayers,'' the mayor said.

Neta Dawson, who lives across the street, said she awoke in the early morning to loud pops that sounded like gunfire. Her son, Jennings Dawson, owned the house but didn't live there.

She said her son is a good landlord and took good care of the property. He spent several hours at the fire scene but left upset.

''He's taking it hard,'' said Neta Dawson, 69.

She said her 14-year-old grandson, nephew of the landlord, had stopped in the home Friday evening and was thinking about staying over for the night but ended up leaving. ''He said it was too crowded,'' she said.