In the face of tragedy, a Jacksonville family is picking up the pieces Wednesday night and trying to comfort their 6-year-old daughter, the lone survivor of a horrific mobile home fire that killed four family members.
“She said that she heard Janet screaming, but the fire was there and I guess that’s when the little boy came and got her,” Jennfier Fowler said. “I don’t question her, because I don’t want her to think about it constantly like we do.”
Investigators said fast-moving flames consumed the mobile home on Palmetto Street in Oceanway on Tuesday, killing 10-month-old Janet Fowler, 2-year-old Rachel Fowler, 4-year-old Richard Fowler Jr. and their 53-year-old grandmother, Sheila Swearingen.
IMAGES: Fire destroys home, takes 4 lives
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“I never dreamed this would have happened,” said Jennifer Fowler, the children's mother. “This is my worst nightmare, and it came true.”
Jennifer Fowler’s daughter, 6-year-old Hattie, was the only survivor of the fire.
“She said that she just seen them laying side-by-side, and she looked at me and said ‘Mommy they were already dead,’” said Fowler. “No smoke got to her, all thanks to that little boy who saved her, so I’m very grateful for him.”
Robert Pritchard, 13, is being called a hero after he went into the fire and got Hattie out Tuesday night. Richard and Jennifer Fowler met Robert on Wednesday.
After sharing a hug with Hattie, Robert told the Fowlers he didn’t realize there were other children in the home and offered his condolences.
“Do you feel like a hero?” asked Channel 4’s Adrienne Moore.
“I kind of do, and I kind of don’t, because I think I could’ve done more,” said Pritchard.
With four funerals to plan and a mountain of grief to overcome, the Fowlers said they are turning to Hattie for strength and courage.
“Our babies are gone, and we can’t bring them back,” Jennifer Fowler. “I would give my life for theirs back, and I can’t.”
The Department of Children and Families said that Hattie's grandparents were caring for her and the other children after their father, Richard Fowler, was arrested over the weekend at the Florida Country Superfest. Clayton Woods, the children’s grandfather, said that hours before the fire Swearingen called DCF to let them know she was bringing the children to the mobile home on Palmetto Street.
“The DCF ordered me and her to put the kids in here, and I had them at my house,” Woods said.
DCF said the decision to allow Hattie back into the care of her parents after the fire was done with Hattie’s best interest in mind.
“There’s three key things when it comes to children in these types of situations,” DCF spokesman John Harrell said. “No. 1, it’s about safety. You want to ensure that. No. 2, it’s about stability. You want to see what you can do so this child doesn’t continue to bounce around from home to home, especially during this very difficult time. And then thirdly, it’s also about sensitivity.”
The Fowlers are now working with DCF to find a counselor for Hattie.
“We’ve got family, we’ve got each other, that’s all we can do,” said Jennifer Fowler.
“Support each other,” said Richard Fowler.