HUMPHREY, Arkansas – Five little boys from three different families died along with the mother of two of the youngsters when a mobile home was destroyed by flames, authorities said.
The fire Wednesday had engulfed the trailer by the time firefighters arrived. Investigators did not know how the blaze began or why no one escaped. The children ranged in age from 8 months to 4 years.
State police investigators spent much of Thursday morning going through the home's electrical junction box (search) as a routine part of their work. As they worked, John and Rachel Whiteside walked up to a police barrier to look at the trailer where their two sons had died.
John Whiteside clutched a cigarette in one hand and a Mountain Dew soda in the other, and a police officer walked up and hugged him.
Rachel Whiteside, a few steps back, screamed "Oh my babies. My babies are gone."
Scattered in the yard were various toy trucks and the other trappings of boyhood. A number of books spilled out of the trailer during the fire, including one, "Brave Little Bunny" that had the edges of its pages charred.
Neighbor Roy Bronson said he and another would-be rescuer couldn't work through the heat to reach the victims. Bronson, a former firefighter, said he felt two explosions at his home four doors down.
"I heard them screaming. She talked to me, she said 'Please help me. I said 'Amanda, get down and crawl.' She said 'I can't, the fire has got me,"' Bronson said.
Another neighbor who lives in the neighborhood brought a 2-by-8 piece of wood used as a battering ram to break through a door that had been deadbolted, Bronson said.
"When that door come open and the smoke and heat hit me in the face, I couldn't go no more," Bronson said. "He grabbed me and said, 'Don't you go in there.'"
By the time the fire department arrived, the fire had engulfed all of the trailer.
"I didn't get much sleep because I could hear those kids screaming," Bronson said. "I heard the kids crying through the door."
The dead were identified as Amanda Clemons, 23, and her sons Dakota, 4, and Edison Ray, 3; Wesley Whiteside, 3, and his brother Steven, 1; and Aiden Joe Richter, 8 mos.
Officials had feared that other children might also have perished in the fire that began shortly after 6 p.m., but Sgt. Ron Stayton of the state police said two thorough searchs of the debris turned up no more bodies.
Those searches were conducted after neighbors said that other youngsters may have been in the home, state police spokesman Bill Sadler said. But Stayton said no indication was found that more than five children were in the home.
"We're thinking possibly the children were just there being babysat," Stayton said.
Sadler said investigators looked through the home's electrical system as part of their routine, and that they would also check to see if the home had natural gas service and whether the woman burned incense or candles or was a smoker.
"These are questions you have to ask when investigating any fire," Sadler said Thursday.
The single-wide mobile home, about 14 feet wide by 60 feet long, was reduced mostly to structural members surrounded by corrugated-metal skirts, sitting on a lot in a neighborhood of small, one-story frame houses. None of the furnishings that had been in the home were easily identifiable; all were burned and charred.
Rachel Whiteside said she lived in the neighborhood and had just dropped her two sons off about 10 minutes before the fire broke out for what she called a "play date."
Whiteside and her husband were distraught after watching the mobile home burn with their children inside.
"If there are any young parents out there, love every minute, every second with your child. Tell them every day that you love them, because in seconds, they are gone, just like that," Whiteside told Little Rock television station KTHV.
The blaze was reported to the Humphrey Volunteer Fire Department (search) at 6:08 p.m., Sadler said.
Britney Hanson, 17, who lives nearby, said she was among the first on the scene.
"There were flames four or five feet up, the whole trailer was in flames," she said. The heat and flames were so intense, she said, that a small camper trailer parked next to the mobile home also caught fire.
Arkansas County Sheriff Allen Cheek said the whole community was "hurt and devastated."
"I'm sure nobody's going to be able to go home and sleep at night because it's going to be on their mind. I know I won't," Cheek said. "It's hard to understand why, at six o'clock in the afternoon, nobody was able to get out. That's what goes through my mind. I won't ever forget this."
Sadler said the bodies of all the victims would be sent to the state Crime Lab in Little Rock (search) for autopsies.
Humphrey, a town of about 800 people, sits astride the Arkansas-Jefferson county line about 40 miles southeast of Little Rock.
Officials of the Humphrey School District (search) said classes were canceled for Thursday.
In 2000, four Humphrey teenagers were killed in the collision of a train and a car as the teenagers returned to their school at the end of a lunch break.