CLEVELAND – Adella Gary's life was saved when neighbors banged on her door and dragged her out of her home as fire engulfed the building next door. Two men carried her husband, who lost a leg to diabetes, down the stairs.
"I heard some popping, some pop-pop-popping, and I thought, 'Somebody's shooting out here,'" Gary, 77, said. "So I opened my window, and when I did I saw a flame burst out" of the house next door.
The city was in mourning after the weekend blaze killed a mother and eight children attending a sleepover in a low-income neighborhood in east Cleveland, fire officials said.
Eleven people were in the home when the blaze started about 3 a.m. Saturday, Assistant Fire Chief Brent Collins said. It began in the home of Media Carter (search) and her six kids. The coroner's office spelled her first name as Media, while fire officials said it was spelled Medeia. Neither were certain of their spelling.
All nine victims died of smoke inhalation, Cuyahoga County (search) Coroner Dr. Elizabeth Balraj said Sunday. Two people survived, one of whom remained in critical condition.
Officials said the fire at the 99-year-old home appeared to be accidental, but the full investigation into its cause will be completed next week.
Community leaders plan to hold nightly vigils until all the bodies are buried, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported Sunday. About 200 people gathered outside the charred house Saturday night, some of them holding candles.
The coroner's office identified six of the victims, including Carter; her sons 15-year-old Davonte Carter and 13-year-old Moses Williams; her nephew Antwone Jackson, 14; Jackson's cousin Ernest Tate, 13; and a friend, 13-year-old Miles Cockfield.
The other three victims were identified by the fire department as two of Carter's other children, 12-year-old Maleeya Williams and 7-year-old Fakih Jones, and 12-year-old Chawntavia Mitchell, whose relationship to the family was not immediately clear, fire officials said.
Balraj said the coroner's office was waiting to positively identify those three victims pending DNA tests because the bodies were so badly burned. Fire investigators identified the victims by interviewing family members, said David Fitz, a spokesman for Mayor Jane Campbell (search).
Assistant Fire Chief David McNeilly said the fire department discovered Sunday that it had incorrectly identified one of the victims the previous day as 34-year-old Sheria Carter, another family member. She was unharmed.
The neighborhood about three miles from downtown Cleveland contains older homes that are rented to lower-income families. Many of the houses have been refurbished, but a few are boarded up.
The American Red Cross (search) will assist with funeral expenses and offer counseling to survivors and neighbors, The Plain Dealer reported.