Tears welled in the eyes of students at Union Intermediate School after hearing about the passing of their fourth-grade classmate.
During a Saturday morning fire, 10-year-old Andre Lamonte Smith died along with his sister, Tashyia Dornita Robinson, a student at Union Elementary School. Tashyia, 9, was a third-grade student at the school. They were two of the six victims.
“There were a few with tears in their eyes,” Union Intermediate principal Jim Workman said Tuesday. “We met with students in his classroom and made them aware that there are services available if they need to speak with someone.”
Workman indicated that he was at a loss for words about the tragic incident.
“But you want to say something soothing to the students, to let them know it’s OK to talk about Andre and to bring up fond memories,” Workman said. “If you’ve experienced death at all, you know that over time the more you think about the person that you lose, all the memories are good. I hope that that these students will see that and have fond memories of Andre.”
Andre attended Union Intermediate for only a week, but was well known at Union Elementary, where his sister attended. Dr. Linda Jewell Carr, Union Elementary principal, said the school had a moment of silence for both students Tuesday morning.
“We consider both of them our kids,” Carr said. “They both had been Union Elementary School Spartans during their whole school career.”
Carr said they’re handling the deaths one moment at a time. Like Union Intermediate, guidance counselors are available for grieving students and staff.
“They’re going to stay available as some children may have more difficulties later,” Carr stressed. “It’s not going to hit them all today.”
She said the two children were “precious little kids, full of energy.”
“I don’t understand it,” Carr said. “I’m heartbroken.”
The principal said it’s a time and situation where she has to rely on the Lord because it’s something that’s hard to understand.
“I’m going to protect the children and the staff the best I can and to let them know we’re not going to understand everything that happens in the world,” Carr said. “They will be missed, but we’re going to do some things as a school to help our children see that we remember her and that she was important.”
At Union Intermediate Tuesday, Workman recalled getting the terrible news and heading to Garland.
“It was a terrible sight,” Workman recalled. “I just have a lot of questions. Why do things like this happen? There are a lot of questions we just don’t have answers to.”
As of Tuesday, no memorial plans have been arranged by the schools or Sampson County Schools.
“Right now everything is still in the ‘what do we need to do stage,’” Workman said.
“We want to honor and respect what the family needs and we’re still trying to establish what that might be,” Carr said.
Workman and Carr said they’ll contact the children’s family to see if they need any help.
“We would like the family and the community to know that we all grieve over the loss of the children and the adults,” Carr said. “The school and the staff will support the family in any way that we can.”
Fire ripped through the 552 Gibbs Road home in the early morning hours of Saturday, killing all those inside.
The names of the victims have now been released. In addition to the youngsters, those who died were Laura Ann Newkirk, 63; James Wilson, age unknown; Johnnie Newkirk, 35; and nita Robinson, 33.