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Onslow house fire kills three children

Three children died early Thursday when a fire ripped through their home south of Jacksonville, Onslow County authorities said. Five other children and their mother were injured.

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VERONA, N.C. — 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."

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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