WASHINGTON COURT HOUSE, Ohio – Three boys who spent the night with their grandmother so she wouldn't be alone on Christmas died with her Friday morning as a fire engulfed her home, authorities said.
Fayette County coroner Dr. Dennis Mesker said the badly burned bodies were turned over to the Montgomery County coroner's office for autopsies and confirmation.
They were tentatively identified as 60-year-old Terry Harris and three brothers: 14-year-old Kenyon, 11-year-old Broderick and 9-year-old Braylon Harris. Terry Harris lived alone in the single-story, ranch-style house that was destroyed by the fire reported shortly after 4 a.m. The boys lived two houses down with their parents.
"They didn't want their grandma to be by herself on Christmas night; that's why they spent the night there," Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth said. "The children just adored their grandmother."
State Fire Marshal's spokesman William Krugh said state investigators are still trying to determine what caused the blaze.
Stanforth said the grandmother's body was found near the front door, with the children near, so authorities think she was trying to help them get out. Firefighters sifting through the smoldering debris found the bodies hours after the blaze erupted because the site was too unstable and hot before then.
"To lose three children and a grandparent, it's devastating to the family," Stanforth said by telephone from the Washington Court House area some 40 miles southwest of Columbus. "The fact that it's the holidays makes it even worse for the community."
He said that he had known the family for years and that the oldest boy had wrestled competitively.
"They're a very close-knit family," he said. "They were good boys."
Officials said counselors were on hand Friday afternoon for family, friends and the children's classmates at Washington Court House city schools' Liberty Hall, and counseling services will be available through the holiday break.