Meridian Star

Local News

December 29, 2009

City mourns

Starkville residents remember fire victims

STARKVILLE — More than 350 mourners gathered at Academy Crossing Apartments Tuesday to grieve the loss of six children and three adults who were killed in an early-morning fire here Monday.

The victims died of smoke inhalation, and their deaths were an accident, the coroner said Tuesday.

Friends, family and neighbors gathered near the charred remains of the apartment late Tuesday for a vigil.

"My brother and her [India] brother were best friends," said 23-year-old MUW nursing student Whitney Norris of one of the victims, 25-year-old India Williams. "We had whole conversations. It's a big loss... I think that the community will get over it OK but the family, they're going to make it but they're going to have a rough time."

Jessica Hill, a 27-year-old Information Technology Systems student at Mississippi State University, who spearheaded the vigil, said the community support has been great.

Hill also encouraged people to help those in need.

"People got big gifts for Christmas.. but they should remember this is a life," Hill said. "We should try to do what we can do... Be prepared. Make fire escape plans."

Investigators, meanwhile, were still working to figure out what sparked the blaze early Monday morning, killing several family members taken in because they had nowhere else to go.

Oktibbeha County Coroner Michael Hunt ordered autopsies on the three adults and said the children would have been examined if anything abnormal was found. Autopsies were not needed for the kids, he said.

The victims were India Williams, 25, and her three children, along with her cousin, Castella ‘‘Maria’’ Bell, 18, and her three children. The ninth victim was 20-year-old Lakesha Gillespie, identified by the West Memorial Funeral Home as a friend. The children were ages 6 months to 6 years.

Richard Vasser, the father of two of Williams’ children, had returned from Iraq on Christmas Eve to his base in Missouri and was traveling to Mississippi on Tuesday to prepare for the burial of his sons, said Vasser’s mother, Katherine Key.

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