Riley Elementary Copes With Death of Students
A memorial continues to grow outside the house on James Street in Macon on Monday where three children died and one is in critical condition after a weekend fire.
Balloons, flowers and stuffed animals lay up right on trees in the front yard. The community continues to lay down trinkets to show their sympathy for the family.
The fire erupted around 1:30 a.m. Sunday. When firefighters entered the burning infrastructure, they found four children inside the house. The mother, Colethia Williams, wasn’t home. Neighbors said she went to the store to buy sinus medicine. Three of the children died and another J’Lon Williams, 3, was resuscitated and in critical condition at the Augusta Burn Center. While the deaths are a tragedy for the community, for the more than 400 students and faculty at Joseph B. Riley Elementary, it's dumbfounding.
"It's really almost surreal particularly when you go by their classrooms where you know just Friday they all three walked right past me,” principal Kent Sparks said. “It's hard to process and believe right now."
Sparks said he's still dealing with the deaths of Daija, 7, Jamarrian, 9, and 10-year-old Nykhiya Williams. Jamarrian and Nykhiya had been attending Riley for a few years. Daija was in kindergarten.
"They were just sweet children and they were very active and they had that zest for life that only young children can have," Sparks said.
Monday morning lessons overshadowed with tragedy as teachers tried to help students with their grief, but Sparks faculty is just as emotional.
"They are in tears, and I go by every hour or so just to give them a hug,” he said. “They're just torn up, particularly the homeroom teachers."
To help students and faculty deal with the tragic circumstances, the Bibb County Board of Education is making counselors available."
"Grief counseling began very quickly once we made it through the breakfast period and began the official part of the day,” BOE Risk Management Director, David Gowan said. “The counseling began immediately."
While faculty and students cope, back at the house, fire investigators are searching for the cause of the blaze. Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief, Marvin Riggins, said the investigation is ongoing but suggests that the point of origin was in a small bedroom. The children were sleeping in the master bedroom next to it when the fire broke out. What ignited the fire is yet to be determined. It is unknown at this time if charges will be filed.
A candlelight vigil will be held at the victim's home Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The school is also working on setting up a compassion fund to help the Williams family with expenses and final arrangements.