Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) – Media Carter’s house in a low-income neighborhood in east Cleveland was a place where neighborhood kids often stopped by to chat or eat dinner.

Friday night started out that way as friends of Carter’s children came over and later decided to stay for a sleepover. But tragedy struck when a fire broke out at the crowded house early Saturday, killing eight kids and one adult, fire officials said.

The blaze was so hot it scorched the home’s frame jet black and forced back neighbors who rushed in to help.

“I just want somebody to pray for me and my family,” Richard Carter told WKYC-TV. He said he lost his daughter and several grandchildren to the flames.

Eleven people were in the house when the blaze started about 3 a.m., including two children who were there for a sleepover, Assistant Fire Chief Brent Collins said. The victims included Carter and four of her children; two people at the house survived.

The cause was unclear, but Fire Chief Paul Stubbs said an initial investigation indicated the fire at the 99-year-old home was an accident.

Authorities said Carter, who was in her 30s, lived in the house with her six children.

“She was real respected. She treated me like a son,” said Devon Cabeza, 14. He said he played basketball with one of the victims, an eighth-grade classmate.

Four of Carter’s children, 15-year-old Davonte Carter, 13-year-old Moses Williams, 12-year-old Maleeya Williams and 7-year-old Fakih Jones, died in the fire, authorities said.

Also killed were her nephew Antwone Jackson, 14; niece, Shawntavia Mitchell, 12; Jackson’s cousin Ernest Tate, 13; and a friend, 13-year-old Miles Cockfield.

Assistant Fire Chief David McNeilly said the fire department found out on Sunday that it had incorrectly identified one of the victims the previous day as 34-year-old Sheria Carter, another family member. She was unharmed.

A coroner’s official said some bodies were so badly burned that DNA testing will be needed to positively identify them. Fire investigators identified the victims by interviewing family members, said David Fitz, a spokesman for Mayor Jane Campbell.

One survivor was treated for minor injuries and the other was hospitalized in critical condition, Stubbs said. The nursing supervisor at MetroHealth Medical Center confirmed a woman from the fire was being treated there, but would not discuss the victim’s injuries.

Campbell said she had spoken with family members.

“The tragedy was so quick, so overwhelming, the only thing they have asked for at this point is please see if you can figure out how this happened and offer your prayers,” she said.

An investigation into the fire’s cause centered on the house’s first floor, which sustained heavy fire damage, Assistant Fire Chief Tim O’Toole said. The second floor, where all the bodies were found, was heavily damaged by smoke and soot, he said.

Two adjacent homes sustained some fire damage. Firefighters removed three people from those homes through upstairs windows, Campbell said.

The neighborhood about three miles from downtown has older homes that are rented to lower-income families. Many of the houses have been refurbished, but a few are boarded up.

Much of the white, wood-frame house was charred and the roof over the front porch was partially collapsed. Every visible window had been shattered.

As daylight broke, dozens of neighbors, family and friends gathered near the scene, hugging and crying as they surveyed the damage. A smell of soot hung in the air, and firefighters shoveled debris onto a small fenced front yard.

Neta Dawson, who lives across the street, said she awoke in the early morning to loud pops that sounded like gunfire. She said her son, Jennings Dawson, owned the house where Carter lived and took good care of it but didn’t live there himself.

“He’s taking it hard,” said Neta Dawson, 69.

She said her 14-year-old grandson had stopped by the home Friday evening and was thinking about staying over but ended up leaving. “He said it was too crowded,” she said.

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