Father: Kids killed in fire 'alive to me'

Family fights back tears as they remember the three children killed in house fire in February

April 4, 2012 2:28:19 PM PDT
The father of three children killed in a house fire in Onslow County this past February talked about the tragedy Wednesday.

The blaze started just before 5 a.m. on Feb. 23 at a home Samuel and Johnetta Pittman rented along Highway 17 on the outskirts of Jacksonville.

Click here for Google map of the area.

There were a total of nine people in the home -- eight children and their mother, Johnetta -- when the fire started.

Officials said 7-year-old Gabriel, 9-year-old Elijah and 12-year-old Tabitha died in the blaze.

Their brother Johnathan, 4, was treated and released from the hospital, while Hanna, 10, was taken to the UNC Burn Center. Samantha, 16, and Adrianne and Gabrielle, both 14, were taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Johnetta was also taken to UNC.

Samuel Pittman was at work when the flames broke out and told reporters Wednesday about what it was like to learn about the tragedy.

"When I got to the hospital, I didn't know I had three children in the house, 'cause that's where I would have been," he said during the press conference as his wife and brother sat next to him. "I was told that there were some taken to New Hanover, some taken to Onslow ... and I asked when I got there where my other children were at."

Samuel Pittman said he later learned that Tabitha tried to save her 7 and 9-year-old brothers.

"I remained calm ... I cried until I threw up, and have cried since then," he said.

Samuel Pittman said when he checked on his wife, who dragged one of their children out of the home, she was unable to speak.

"When I first saw my wife, they'd begin to sedate her," he said. "She was crying ... she couldn't speak to me, but she held up three (fingers). I knew what she was wanting to know."

Both parents were choking back tears, as he talked about the family's ordeal and his need to stay strong for those who survived.

"Carrying it, I didn't carry it by myself. I couldn't carry it by myself," Samuel Pittman said. "It was the Lord that helped me. Only thing I knew was to fast and pray. That's what I did."

He also said that he doesn't think of his three kids who died in the past tense, "They're alive today. To me, they're sleeping."

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