CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — As Talma Isabell coped with the crushing heartache of losing her daughter and five grandchildren in a house fire that killed nine people in all, several dozen people surrounded the woman and her family at church Sunday with their arms raised and their heads bowed in prayer.

Seven children and two adults died in the early Saturday blaze in Charleston, about 11 miles east of the church. Isabell’s daughter, 26-year-old Alisha Carter-Camp, had celebrated her birthday at the home the night before her death.

Isabell and several relatives gathered at Maranatha Fellowship Church in St. Albans on Sunday, getting hugs and prayers from fellow worshippers. Just a few hours before, the fire claimed its ninth victim, a 7-year-old boy who died after being removed from life support at a hospital.

Pastor Darren Powell described how he went to the hospital a few hours after the fire to be with Isabell. He said there was little he could do or say, but told her he wanted to let her know the family was in the church’s prayers.

“She said, ‘Pastor, I’m standing on my foundation, Jesus Christ,'” Powell said. “I’m telling you, I went there trying to be a help and encouragement, and instead, she encouraged me.”

Powell then thanked Isabell for her strength, courage and faith.

“In the midst of tragedy and turmoil, you are being a great witness for your king and your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” Powell said.

Later, Powell quoted Bible verses dealing with challenges and adversity.

Powell also asked parishioners for donations to help with funeral costs. And at the Charleston hotel where Carter-Camp worked at the front desk for six months, hotel administrative assistant Kathy Mullins said donations are being collected that will be given to the family.

The blaze tore through the two-story home hours after the last guest had left Carter-Camp’s 26th birthday party.

Jason Bausley said Carter-Camp was his niece and that she rented the home. Her sister, Latasha Jones Isabell, lived there along with the sisters’ children.

Neighbors say Latasha Jones Isabell was smoking a cigarette outside, noticed the fire and raced to a nearby home to summon help.

The cause remains under investigation.

Police released the names of the victims Saturday but didn’t know how they were related. On Sunday, Bausley identified the victims as Carter-Camp and two of her children, Keahna Camp, 8; and Jeremiah Camp, 3; Carter-Camp’s boyfriend, Alex Seal, age unknown; and Seal’s 3-year-old daughters, Kiki and Gigi.

Also killed were Latasha Isabell’s children, Elijah Scott, 3, and Emanuel Jones, 18 months, Bausley said.

On Sunday, there was more reason to grieve: Carter-Camp’s 7-year-old son, Bryan Timothy Camp, was removed from life support between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. Sunday, said Charleston Police Sgt. Bobby Eggleton.

With two years separating the sisters, Bausley said the pair had been virtually inseparable since they were children. Lisa, as Carter-Camp was known, always was teased about having her younger sister with her.

“Lisa’s just always felt obligated to look out for Tasha,” Bausley told The Associated Press.

But Carter-Camp had plans to start a new chapter in her life. Carter-Camp told neighbors she planned to get married in June and move to Pittsburgh.

Eggleton said police had talked to Latasha Isabell once and plan to do so again about what happened. Bausley said she has yet to talk about it with the family.

“Tasha is devastated, I can’t even describe it,” Bausley said. “I haven’t heard her say a word since this happened. She’s just been staring off into space.

“I haven’t heard her voice.”

Bausley said Carter-Camp was recently divorced. Her ex-husband is a city transportation driver who spent the weekend watching over his son. “He’s devastated like everybody else,” Bausley said.

On Friday, Carter-Camp came to the barber shop where Bausley worked, and he was supposed to meet Seal’s daughters for the first time on Saturday.

That introduction never happened.

The blaze tore through the home while the family slept.

On Sunday, police tape still cordoned off two streets outside the home, while two patrol cars kept watch at the scene. Students from an elementary school attended by some of the victims put up a blue sign on the fence outside the home that read: “Gone But Not Forgotten.” Across the street, four stuffed toys were lined up along the sidewalk outside the adjacent home of a baby sitter.

Investigators continued looking through the house on Sunday.

“We’re not looking for anything in particular,” Eggleton said. “Maybe something will stand out.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


John Raby

Associated Press