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Onslow dad says fatal fire was God's will

Posted April 4, 2012

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— The father of three children who died in an Onslow County house fire in February is speaking out about that horrific day, saying he believes God had a plan for his family.

"I thank God that He counted my family worthy to suffer," Sammy Pittman said told reporters Wednesday morning "That's the only way I can look at it. It's the only way I choose to look at it."

Pittman, a minister at House of Prayer in Turkey, N.C., was at work on the morning of Feb. 23 when an electrical short in a refrigerator sparked the fire at his home in Verona, south of Jacksonville.

His 12-year-old daughter, Tabitha, and two sons, Elijah, 9, and Gabriel, 7, were found dead in the living room from smoke inhalation.

His five other children – Samantha, 16, twins Adrienne and Gabrielle, 14, Hannah, 10, and Johnathan, 4 – and his wife, Johnetta, got out of the house.

"I cried until I threw up, and I've cried since then," Pittman said. "But I have one way to look at it, so I told (my family) to stay strong and God will show us what we need to do."

Pittman said his wife, asleep on the first floor, awoke to a crackling sound from the kitchen and told the four children on the first floor to get out of the house.

Then, Pittman said, she raced toward the second floor, where the rest of the children were sleeping, only to find the stairs covered in flames.

"She was able to yell at them and wake them up, but they came out of the bedroom to find out that they could not go downstairs," he said. "She then ran outside to the window, because she told them they had to jump."

Sammy Pittman Onslow dad recalls devastating fire loss

They jumped to safety, but for some reason, he said, the children on the first floor hadn't come out yet.

Johnetta Pittman forced open the front door, and a swirling inferno forced her to the ground.

"When she did that, she couldn't raise her head. Her hair was blowing. She couldn't see," her husband said. "The smoke had thickened, and she was able to yell for the children on the floor."

That's when Hannah appeared from the smoke. Her mother dragged her to safety and then returned for the others -- Tabitha, Elijah and Gabriel.

They never appeared.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Tabitha would not leave her brothers," Pittman said. "She was a server, very humble, and you didn’t have to tell her to do things like clean her room or anything like that. She just stood out. She loved people and there's no doubt in my mind that she would leave her brothers."

Investigators say they did not find smoke detectors in the rental home, but Pittman's family told the Onslow County Sheriff's Office that the home did have smoke detectors and that he doesn't hold the owner responsible.

Members of the community are now building the Pittmans a new home in Richlands, and Pittman said he is hoping to take his family away on a vacation soon.

He teared up at times Wednesday but was happy to report that Hannah, who was burned on her face, arms and back doesn't have to wear bandages anymore.

He said he also has to remind the twins to keep wearing their back braces for injuries they suffered after they jumped from the second floor.

Samantha and Johnathan were not hurt.

Despite his loss, Pittman said, he still considers himself a father of eight, thinking of the three children he lost as simply being with God.

"I never lost children in a fire, so I take it one day at a time, but I can say that it's been the word of God that has gotten me through," he said. "I have not questioned God. I do not ask Him why this happened, and I do not charge Him foolishly."


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  • Lightfoot3 Apr 6, 2012

    "If God is not welcome here how can one possibly expect divine intervention?" - 1tinindian2

    The same way it was done in the bible. Give it a read .... it wasn't always the believers/followers that were visited.

  • paradiselost Apr 6, 2012

    If God is not welcome here how can one possibly expect divine intervention? I wouldn't stay where I'm not wanted.

  • itsmyownopinion Apr 6, 2012

    "...They admire a government in which God is intertwined with legislature...."
    Lightfoot 3

    Doesn't that go back to the founding fathers of our country?

  • Lightfoot3 Apr 6, 2012

    "why do you even care what we foolish believers think and post?" - luvbailey

    While I'm not anti-Vishnu, anti-Amon Ra, anti-Apollo, etc, I think the simple answer to your question is to consider such things as Proposition 8 in California, or the May 8 referendum vote on changing the North Carolina constitution to ban gay marriage. We should all care what "foolish believers" think because they sometimes want to legislate those beliefs such that they will be imposed on everyone. They admire a government in which God is intertwined with legislature. Taliban anyone?

  • Lightfoot3 Apr 6, 2012

    "he believes God had a plan for his family" - article

    It's so sad to see believers try to rationalize when bad things happen. They can't allow themselves to reach the true logical conclusion that god's not there, so they come up with ridiculous scenarios such as God killed the children by fire because he has some ultimate plan that we're too ignorant to understand. I'm glad I'm free of the shackles of always having to rationalize and ask, "why, God?"

    Anyone catch South Park this week? Pretty funny that they felt sorry for the frogs during the Exodus plague. Poor frogs.

  • hawk123 Apr 6, 2012

    Simply delusional. It stuns me how religious belief warps human compassion.

  • KnoxOverstreet III Apr 6, 2012

    It saddens me to see that this man's faith has been so misguided that He is, essentially, blaming God for the tragedy in His life. It is in our hardest times that we need to be even more steadfast in our faith in a loving God. God had NOTHING to do with the fire or the loss of lives. He doesn't work that way! When Christ uttered "It is finished" on the Cross, that changed everything! I guarantee that God was even more hurt by this tragedy than this father was. THAT is the God I cling to in trouble times!

    What's so sick is that he isn't blaming his god, he's thanking him.

  • anneonymousone Apr 5, 2012

    My best thoughts are with the Pittman family and friends. I don't understand the ideas that bring Mr. Pittman comfort, but I am glad he has something to help him make sense of such an enormous loss.

    Umop Apisdn's comment, "As an atheist it's difficult to comprehend but just because I don't get it doesn't mean it's crazy or dumb. That's true for all of us. Please keep the comments clean" warmed my heart. I am also an atheist who realizes there is a difference between not believing and being in opposition to those who DO believe. I am an atheist, not ANTI-theist.

    It was also lovely to see some kindness toward Umop Apisdn in the comments.

    If all humans were able to make tragedy make us more compassionate, instead of more divisive, regardless of our beliefs, we could have the kind of peaceful society that people of all faiths and none could benefit from and appreciate.

  • skwerl Apr 5, 2012

    I'm sorry for this family's loss, but I think the underlying purpose of this article is to promote religion. The story behind it is just fodder for proselytizing.

  • voiceofreason32 Apr 5, 2012

    Glad to see he is able to find some comfort in his faith, he is a better man than me. For those who dislike or hate faith, let him have his beliefs so he can heal.
    For those of you who are talking about a lack of faith because he says God Caused the Fire....you need to back down too. If God controls everything, he could have stopped this from happening, he chose not to....stop saying Satan is to blame for tornadoes, fires, etc when the Bible tells us clearly those are commanded by God. Either believe the whole Bible or none of it.

    Quite frankly, I think God got tired of us along time ago, threw up his hands and said here Son, you try...after 2000 years and people hating those who believe in Jesus, he appears to have thrown up his hands too.

    So, maybe he is just so fed up with this part of the universe that he decided to spend more time in another part..I can't blame him