Local News

Onslow house fire kills three children

Posted February 23, 2012
Updated February 24, 2012

— Three children died early Thursday when a fire ripped through their home south of Jacksonville, authorities said.

Five other children in the house and their mother were injured in the fire.

Firefighters responded to the fire at 2124 Wilmington Highway shortly after 5 a.m. The first floor was engulfed in flames by then, and it took nearly 40 minutes to bring the fire under control, authorities said.

Tabitha Pittman, 12, and two younger brothers, Elijah, 9, and Gabriel, 7, were found dead in the living room, Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown said. All three had been overcome by smoke, he said.

Brown said it appears that Tabitha might have called 911 to report the fire and then tried to get her brothers out of the house.

"I don’t want to believe that she’s gone, but I guess I really don’t have a choice," said Shayla Preston, 14, a friend of Tabitha and the other children.

"Tabitha was like my sister," Shayla said. "Elijah and Gabriel were like my two little brothers. We were always really close."

Tabitha liked art and being a cheerleader, while her brothers were sports fanatics, their friends said.

"I just want people to remember them and don’t be mad that this happened," said William Jones, 9, who called Elijah his best friend. "I wish we could act like it never happened."

Onslow house fire Flames engulf Onslow family's home

Family friends said Johnetta Pittman got out of the burning house but repeatedly tried to return to rescue her children. She suffered smoke inhalation and was treated at an area hospital and released.

Hannah Pittman, 10, was taken to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. She reportedly had third-degree burns, but her condition was unknown.

Sixteen-year-old Samantha and 14-year-old twins Adrienne and Gabrielle were taken to New Hanover Regional Hospital in Wilmington for treatment. They were all listed in good condition.

The twins jumped from a second-story window to escape the fire, Brown said. Shayla and other friends said one girl tossed their 4-year-old brother, Jonathan, down to the other before jumping.

Johnathan Pittman was unharmed and was with his father, Sam Pittman, on Thursday afternoon. Sam Pittman was at work when the fire broke out, Brown said.

Friends said the twins both suffered back injuries and that Samantha Pittman had a neck injury.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The house, which dates to the 1940s, was so badly burned that investigators haven't determined whether there were any smoke detectors inside.

Two deputies who tried to enter the burning house were treated at Onslow Memorial Hospital for smoke inhalation, Brown said.

The American Red Cross was trying to assist the family, and the Onslow County Sheriff's Office and local businesses were collecting clothes, furniture and other items on their behalf.


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  • MonkeyFace Feb 24, 2012

    I am a friend of the family, and I can assure you that the mother is in Chapel Hill. Apparently theres a news station reporting that Hannah has died, which is also incorrect!

  • cwood3 Feb 24, 2012

    God bless that whole family. I hear they have a strong faith-they'll need it!!

  • seankelly15 Feb 24, 2012

    MonkeyFace - "Come on now.. if you're gonna report it, report it correctly"

    I have visited five news outlets; WRAL is not one of the five. One stated that the mother is in a hospital in Wilmington, one said that the mother was being treated at a hospital in New Hanover, one said that she was treated and released and two had the identical story (copies of each other) and they said the Jaycees Burn Center at UNC. I don't know that ANY of the news outlets really know the status of the mother.

  • iknowjack Feb 24, 2012

    Easy to armchair quarterback but you won't see me coming out of a burning house that my children are inside of.

  • MonkeyFace Feb 24, 2012

    I was correct in my last post, Johnette is still sedated.

  • MonkeyFace Feb 24, 2012

    Family friends said Johnetta Pittman got out of the burning house but repeatedly tried to return to rescue her children. She suffered smoke inhalation and was treated at an area hospital and released------------------this part of the story is incorrect!!! Johnette is at Chapel Hill, and from what I understand, she is still in a coma! Come on now.. if you're gonna report it, report it correctly

  • warbirdlover Feb 23, 2012

    How tragic. Losing a child in a fire, I can't think of noting worse. Wonder if they had smoke alarms???? They do save lives. I say if you don't have them please go by some. Our local FD gives alarms to lower income families. If you do have them, go check them right now. They are so easy to forge, out of site out of mind. After reading this I checked mine and replaced the batteries. They have some batteries at Lowes that are made special for Alarms and last a lot longer than regular batteries.

  • 1nclady Feb 23, 2012

    How horrible. Prayers to the family.

  • Just Mojo Feb 23, 2012

    how very sad.

  • aprilhunter220 Feb 23, 2012

    Prayers to the family.