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Grandmother recalls fatal fire that killed 9

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Talma Isabell began softly crying as she recalled the morning in March when two Charleston police officers came knocking on her door.

The officers had come to give her a ride to the hospital, but she didn't yet know why. Isabell, 66, of St. Albans, could only read a sense of urgency and despair on the two men's faces.

"They turned on their lights and we start zooming up the interstate," she said. "I heard one dispatcher say somebody had been moved to from Saint Francis Hospital to Charleston General. Then I asked what was wrong."

One officer told her there was a fatal fire at her daughters' house -- the same house Isabell's daughter shared with her five grandchildren.

At the hospital, a line of clergymen were waiting to greet her -- and Isabell knew then what she'd been brought there to do, she said.

Doctors uncovered bodies and showed her pictures of bodies to identify victims in what is believed to be the deadliest house fire in Charleston's history.

That March 24 blaze claimed the lives of Alisha Carmella Carter-Camp, 26, and Carter-Camp's three children: Keahana Alease Carter-Camp, 8; Timothy "BJ" Bryan Carter-Camp, 7; and Jeremiah Rashaud Carter-Camp, 3.

Carter-Camp's boyfriend, Alexander Seals, 27, and Seals' two daughters, Gabrielle, 5, and McKenzie, 3, were also killed.

Latasha Jones-Isabell, Carter-Camp's sister, escaped the fire but her two children, Elijah John Scott, 3, and Emmanuel Charles Jones-Isabell, 20 months, did not. The fire killed nine in all and firefighters could not determine what started it.

Talma Isabell told her story Saturday night before a large audience at Maranatha Fellowship Church in St. Albans. She thanked the church's large congregation for donating money and food to her family during the tragedy. The church raised more than $60,000 to cover funeral and burial costs, she said.

"I don't even come close to making that kind of money," she said. "I thank you so much from the bottom of my heart and I give God all the praise and the glory."

Becky Lemley, lay ministry coordinator, said church leaders decided to start a fund to help others in the community who experience sudden tragedies like this.

"We watched our community come together and all we had to do was whisper that we were in need," she said.

All money would be used to purchase gift cards for families struggling to pay for food or essential items like diapers, she said.

The fund, the first of its kind for the church, is dedicated to Isabell's family and the community that came together to support each other, Lemley said.

Isabell said giving back to those who helped means the most to her family.

"I'm so indebted to every single one of you," she said. "I tell you it's been a rollercoaster ride but I can honestly say because of Jesus, I've been more on the upside than I have been on the downside."

The tragedy is a constant struggle for her family. Her speech Saturday made Latasha Jones-Isabell relive some of that.

"She still needs our prayers," Jones-Isabell said. "But I want you all to just know I'm going to be all right and my daughter, by God's graces, is going to be all right."

Jones-Isabell said she still sings her favorite songs in church and smiles when she thinks of happy memories of her family. She's since been back to the scene of the fire but doesn't dwell on the horrors that happened there.

"I told myself, 'I'm going to stay here and see what God is going to do with this,'" Jones-Isabell said. "And now I'm on the blessed side. I'm looking back at this now wondering what else He is going to do for me."

For information on how to donate to Maranatha Fellowship Church's emergency community fund, call 304-984-9514.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.

 

 


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