Mom Speaks Out After Fire at 24-Hour Day Care Kills 5 Kids, Including 3 Belonging to Firefighter

Charred remains of Pennsylvania daycare home
CBS News/YouTube

A devastating fire ripped through a home day care center in Erie, Pennsylvania, over the weekend, claiming the lives of five small children and leaving multiple families grappling with their sudden loss. According to ABC 7, most of the children were staying overnight as their parents worked -- including three belonging to a firefighter who was fighting another blaze that night.

  • The fire broke out in the early morning hours of August 11, when 911 operators were told eight people were trapped inside the home.

    Although all of the victims were pulled from the blaze by firefighters, five of the children -- who ranged from just 8 months to 8 years old -- ultimately succumbed to their injuries. The other victims reportedly included two teenagers, and one adult -- Elaine Harris, who owned the 24-hour Harris Family Daycare.

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  • Three of the young victims were reportedly the children of volunteer firefighter Luther Jones, who was blocks away answering another call.

    The children's grieving mother, Shevona Overton, spoke with CBS affiliate WSEE-TV and identified them as La'Myhia Jones, 8; Luther Jones Jr., 6; and Ava Jones, 4. She also had a fourth child, Jaydan Augustyniak, 9 months, who perished in the fire as well. 

    "I'm just so hurt my babies are gone," Overton told Erie News Now's Lisa Adams. "I love them dearly. I just hurt inside knowing that my kids were fighting and hurting in that fire.  Every minute, I feel the same pain."

    On Sunday, the children's grandmother, Valerie Lockett-Slupski, also spoke with reporters, as she stood outside the charred home in disbelief.

    "We are all at a loss, trying to figure out how this happened," Lockett-Slupski said, adding that the kids were being looked after by the day care because their parents were both working overnight. 

    Harris had cared for all four children at her overnight day care center for about a year, according to the grandmother. The fifth child who was lost in the fire reportedly belonged to her, according to CNN

  • According to Erie News Now, the fire broke out shortly after 1 a.m., and neighbors called 911 after hearing screams for help from the home.

    Those screams allegedly came from the two older children, ages 12 and 15, who had managed to climb onto the roof of a second-floor porch but became trapped as flames enveloped the home. At least one neighbor reportedly tried to enter the home to help the victims but was ultimately driven back by the intense smoke and flames.

    When first responders arrived, all of the children were in critical condition, and witnesses report seeing medics perform chest compressions on each of them before they were taken away in stretchers. Harris, meanwhile, is said to have suffered from burns and smoke inhalation and was brought first to UPMC Hamot's trauma center and later transported to the burn unit at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh.

  • Officials are still investigating what caused the daily fire, but the Erie fire chief did share some suspicions. 

    According to Fire Chief Guy Santone, investigators believe an "electrical overload" could have sparked the fire, because there were multiple electrical cords running under a living room couch, with many things plugged into them. Still, the fire department is waiting for an electrical engineer to visit the scene to make a final determination.

    But even if an electrical overload caused the fire, Santone says another major safety issue was found within the home: a lack of smoke detectors

    "[There was] only one, in the attic and that did absolutely no good," Santone said over the weekend, adding that "we could have prevented a tragedy if there were [more] smoke detectors in the building."

    Still, the day care received a full fire inspection on December 28, 2018, and was found to be in compliance. However, a later note on the inspection did call out some safety concerns, including "ashes and cigarette or cigar butts" found in "a child care space, play space or food preparation area."

    For now, the entire Erie community is in mourning as the children's families struggle to pick up the pieces and make sense of their loss.

    "The Erie Fire Department sends their condolences to the families," Santone shared. "We wish we could have done more. We did everything we could [but] it just didn't have the outcome we had hoped for."