Two in family spared to struggle forward

January 20, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Shaunette Shropshire left her house Thursday morning for a quick trip to buy textbooks at Harford Community College, where she was to start classes Monday.

The young mother of four, who also was due to give birth any day, returned later to find a horrific scene - three of her children and her parents killed in a fire that destroyed their Abingdon home.

Her 6-year-old daughter was spared because she was at school.

With the aid of her extended family, Shropshire spent yesterday caring for her daughter, Iyanna Horne, who turns 7 today, and making funeral plans.

"I cannot talk about them today, maybe later," she said during a brief telephone interview yesterday afternoon. "I am making their arrangements."

When Mildred Samy, Iyanna's paternal grandmother, heard about the fire, she frantically called family in Harford County to find out whether her granddaughter was among the victims.

"I was relieved to find out she was in school, but so sad for Shaunette," she said. "I was just at a loss for words. How will she bury three children?"

Samy said she has spoken frequently with Shropshire in the past few days. "She is holding up, but as she talks, it hits her and she breaks down," Samy said.

The victims' bodies were so badly burned that the medical examiner could not confirm four of the five identifications until yesterday.

The deceased were Jerome R. Shropshire, 72; his wife, Annette Milford Shropshire, 47; Donald Terreance White, 4; Derek Danna White, 3; and Jhaniyah Imani Davis, 9 months.

Investigators were combing through the remains of the charred wood-frame house in the 3400 block of Philadelphia Road yesterday and have yet to determine the cause of the fire or where it started.

Shropshire, the daughter by her father's second marriage, was close to her parents and lived with them. The older couple often baby-sat the children, said Rose Shropshire, Jerome's sister-in-law.

"Her children were all really sweet little kids," the Baltimore resident said. "The family was all really close, and my husband and his brother visited often. We were just there right around Christmas, and the little girl was talking away to me and the little boys were playing outside.

"This was a good family, and Jerome was a good person."

Samy said she spoke with the guidance counselor at William Paca/Old Post Elementary School, where her granddaughter is in first grade. Without telling the girl about the fire, the counselor helped prepare the child for the news that awaited her, Samy said.

"She asked her to remember all the good times with her brothers and baby sister," Samy said. "Iyanna loved racing home to play with her new baby sister. She was so glad to have her, after having two brothers."

Kristina Pierce, the PTA president at the school, said school families and staff will contribute to efforts to provide relief.

"It will probably be everything from clothing to housing," said Pierce, whose son is in first grade at the school. "They are our family, too, and there will be an overabundance of help."

It was the second time this year that the school community has experienced such a loss. On the second day of classes in August, Franklin Tull, the 53-year-old principal, died unexpectedly.

"This has really been a difficult year for us," Pierce said. "We lost our principal and adapted to the changes of a new principal. Now we have another tragedy to deal with and we will."

Joan Wiggins, an assistant principal at the school, said faculty and students saw the fire trucks passing the school, not realizing that the deadly blaze was only about a mile away.

She said that a community member called to inform school officials about the fire and said that it appeared to be ravaging the home of a student.

Wiggins said the faculty has established a staff fund to assist the family. Several organizations have offered to help the family, including Harford County's Community Services.

"We really feel for her," Wiggins said. "We're doing what we can to help the family."

She described the mood of the students yesterday as resilient.

"It's just a tragic situation, and you don't know why God spared the little girl," she said. "I think he has some great plans for her in the future."

Sun reporter Nick Shields contributed to this article.

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