GARLAND — Early Saturday morning, a group of shocked and saddened community members stood on Gibbs Road staring at a fire-ravaged single-wide mobile home.
In the wee hours of that morning, around 12:30 or 1 a.m., fire swept through the structure at 552 Gibbs Road, claiming the lives of six individuals, two of them reportedly children.
Resident Joyce Miles said her grandson, Solomon Hickmond, saw the fire just after 12:30 a.m. and ran across the street to the home and yelled out for the people inside.
“The whole front of it was on fire,” she said. “We ran around to the back but the fire and smoke was too bad. It’s a tragedy and they’re going to be missed.”
The names of those who died in the fire were not released Saturday, as Sampson’s medical examiner tried to make positive identifications and law enforcement officials worked to notify next of kin.
Out of respect for the families and to ensure accuracy, The Independent has chosen not to report any names until officially released by law enforcement and emergency personnel.
Hickmond recalled trying to rouse those inside the mobile home, saying that the fire was coming out the windows and the front door. He tried to kick the door down, but fire gushed out towards him.
“From the outside, you can see that the roof was already caved in by the time I got there,” Hickmond said. “The only thing you could see was black smoke.”
Hickmond reported that a go-cart and gas container next to the home exploded during the rescue attempt.
He ran around beating on neighbors’ doors asking them to help.
“But there was nothing we could do,” Miles said. “We couldn’t do anything.”
Miles and Hickman said they were relatives of the victims.
“I can’t believe it,” Miles said.
Resident Bobbie McKiver said there was no screaming coming from the home.
“We heard nothing,” she said. “But we knew they were in there.”
Capt. Eric Pope, of the Sampson County Sheriff’s Department, spoke on behalf of the organization and other emergency officials at the scene.
“We ask that the public keep the Garland community in their thoughts and prayers…,” Pope said.
Pope also thanked the volunteer firefighters for their response in the wee hours of the morning.
“We would also like to extend our thoughts and prayers to the first responders who responded,” Pope stressed. “They encountered things that volunteers should not have to encounter.”
Garland Mayor Winifred Murphy was also at the scene for a couple hours after the incident occurred. She gave thanks for the first responders and neighbors that helped during the night.
“This is a tragedy for our community,” Murphy attested.
Investigators with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office, the Sampson County Fire Marshal’s Office, the NC State Bureau of Investigation, and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are currently probing the cause of the fire and the deaths.
Garland firefighters and a myriad of other responding agencies were on scene, first to put out the blaze and then to assist in combing through the charred remains.
Just after 6, law enforcement released the first statement saying that five bodies had been discovered. A couple hours later, as emergency crews worked inside the residence, a sixth body was found.
Although there’s no indication of foul play, investigators are still processing the evidence as a crime until the cause of the fire can be determined and autopsies are complete.
“It’s just normal procedure for us to proceed in that manner,” Pope said.
Pope also cautioned families to check batteries in their smoke detectors to ensure they are working properly. For those who can’t afford a smoke detector, he said, some local fire departments may provide one for free.
No additional information is available at this time.