A rural Eastern North Carolina community is struggling to understand why six people died in a house fire early Saturday morning.
Dispatchers received a call to 552 Gibbs Road in Garland about 1 a.m. By the time emergency crews reached the single-wide mobile home, it was engulfed in flames.
Neighbors tried to kick the door in to help the victims, Garland Mayor Winifred Murphy said.
“But there were bodies at the door, and they couldn’t get in,” she said.
Joyce Miles, a neighbor, said her grandson tried to help.
“There just was no way,” she said. “The fire was blazing all up.”
While there aren’t signs of foul play, investigators are “processing the evidence as a crime until the cause of the fire can be determined and autopsies are complete,” the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a statement. The State Bureau of Investigation and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are looking into the fire along with local authorities.
Town Commissioner Haywood Johnson, a former firefighter, said he can’t remember the last time Garland had such a fire. He declined to speculate what might have caused it.
“It’s puzzling to me,” he said. “I don’t have the faintest idea.”
Deputies don’t plan to release the names of the victims for a few days, Capt. Eric Pope said Saturday night.
“We’re in a holding pattern until we hear from the medical examiner,” he said.
Bobbie McKiver, who lives across the street from the scorched home, said her distant cousin Laura Ann Newkirk and Newkirk’s son Johnny Newkirk were two of the six who died in the fire.
By the time McKiver noticed the blaze, it was too late. She watched from her window as part of the home collapsed.
She couldn’t believe it. McKiver said she saw Laura Ann Newkirk hanging up clothes on a line last week.
“I waved at her,” she said.
Murphy also knew Laura Ann Newkirk.
“She went to school with me at Garland High School,” she said.
Murphy said the 625-resident community is devastated.
“Everyone knows everyone here for the most part,” she said. “We’re all gonna have to pray and pull together.”
News & Observer staff photographer Scott Sharpe contributed.