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Early morning blaze kills 5 children left home alone

By Clay Harden
charden@clarionledger.com

The father of two Yazoo City children whose home burned early today said the children's mother told him that she was going to a nightclub late Sunday and that the children would have a babysitter.

   
Brian Albert Broom / The Clarion-Ledger

A Yazoo City firefighter enters 220 Moody Street in Yazoo City Monday morning following a blaze that left five children dead who were reportedly left unattended.

More Photos: Yazoo City Fire - 10/06/2003

 
 
Despite what Clara Bell told him, her five children and the 1-year-old child of Bell's sister, Eugenia Bell, were left home alone, Alfred Williams Sr. said today.

One of Williams' children by Clara Bell, 7-year-old Kayla Williams, and four other children at the home perished in the 12:30 a.m. blaze. Williams' other child by Clara Bell, 9-year-old Alfred Williams Jr., was the sole survivor.

"I'm going to keep this child forever," said Alfred Williams, who is not married to Clara Bell. "I don't think she's (Clara Bell) ever going to get out of this."

Four of Clara Bell's children and the child of her sister, Eugenia Bell, died when fire raced through the wood-frame home on Moody Street. There were no adults in the home when the blaze occurred, said Yazoo County Coroner Ricky Shivers.

Shivers said the dead are Devunte Bell, 10; Takiesha Bell, 3; William Bell, 1 ; Kayla Williams, 7; and Tytianna Bell, 4. Fire investigators say they don't know the cause of the blaze and are investigating whether the home had smoke detectors.

"While we're still investigating, all indications are that the two (Clara Bell and Eugenia Bell) were at a local nightclub" when the fire occurred, said Yazoo City Police Chief Mike Wallace.

Alfred Williams Sr. said that even if Clara Bell, who with her sister is charged with five counts of negligent manslaughter and one count of felony child neglect, is released from jail Tuesday, "She's going to hurt in her heart for this for the rest of her life."

Bond for each woman was set at $250,000 today during an initial court appearance before Municipal Judge Derek Parker. Williams Sr. said that Clara Bell and Eugenia Bell had lived in the Moody Street home for just a few months. He said Clara Bell called him late Sunday to tell him that she was going to The Outer Limits, a local club, and that she had a babysitter.

About 45 minutes later, he said, he got a call telling him that there had been a fire. He said he went immediately to the home.

When he got there, he discovered that Kayla Williams and the others had died. Alfred Williams Jr., survived after neighbors broke out a window on the front of the house and pulled him to safety.

"The kid was just there, right there at the window, so we just pulled him out," said Cynthia Brown, 26, who was sitting in her living room across the street with Antowain Johnson, 19, when flames broke out.

"He (Johnson) tried to go back in and get the rest of them, but the smoke wouldn't let him."

Since the sisters moved to the Moody Street house, Williams said, Clara Bell never brought the children to him to keep. "I had to go to work the next day, but I would have watched the children" Sunday night, he said.

He said that his son was not able to give fire investigators a cause for the fire, but that investigators told him they want the child to be interviewed by a psychologist in an effort to get some answers.

Alfred Williams Jr. was resting at his father's home late this morning after being treated for minor injuries. His father would not allow him to be interviewed by a reporter.

The blaze mirrors an Oct. 16, 2002, tragedy in which six children perished in Tchula when a woman left them home alone. The woman, Angela Williams, was allegedly at a local nightclub, the Lawful Occasion, when fire tore through their mobile home that had no electricity or smoke detectors. A seventh child survived.

Three of the children who died belonged to Angela Williams and three to her sister, Carolyn Williams. Angela Williams was babysitting the children at the time of the blaze.

In today's fire, "flames were coming out of the front of the house" and thick black smoke was pouring from the structure when firefighters arrived, said Mike Woodard, fire chief in the town of about 14,500.

Witnesses said Eugenia Bell, the mother of 1-year-old William Bell, seemed distraught when she returned home at some point after the fire and then apparently left.

Katie Bell, 45, the mother of Eugenia Bell and Clara Bell, said that Eugenia Bell came to her Yazoo City apartment at about 3:30 a.m. today to tell her that her son had died in a fire.

   
Brian Albert Broom / The Clarion-Ledger

Yazoo City Fire Department investigators sift through the scene at 220 Moody Street in Yazoo City Monday morning where a fire left five children dead who neighbors report were left unattended. Mothers of the children Clara D. Bell and Eugenia Bell were taken into custody and charged with child neglect.

 
 
Katie Bell said she didn't believe her and went to her daughters' home at 221 Moody Street to find that not one, but five children had died.

"I feel hurt and angry. I don't know where they (her daughters) were at that time of the morning," Katie Bell said.

Katie Bell said both her daughters were aware of the fire in Tchula that killed six children a year ago.

Brown said the children in the home often came over to her house to play. She said at times the children were left unsupervised on weekends.

"I think that was real wrong," she said.

Yazoo County District Attorney James Powell said today that he doesn't believe the fire in Yazoo City is reason to delay Angela Williams' trial. Jim Arnold, Angela Williams' attorney, said he doesn't plan to ask for a continuance.

Today's blaze did have Powell rattled, he said.

"Why I would get two of these situations happeneing in my area, I don't know," said Powell, whose district also covers Holmes County. "I just can't understand it."


The Associated Press contributed.



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