NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – The Hilliard community is grieving the loss of a mother and two young children who died after their home caught fire early Thursday morning.
The fire started around 3:30 a.m. in the western portion of Nassau County roughly three miles from the state line and now both county and state fire investigators are working to learn how it happened.
Along with grief and sadness, one family member told News4JAX he also feels confused. He wants the same answers that the state fire marshal’s office is digging for — what caused the fire in the double-wide trailer and why wasn’t this family able to escape it?
A neighbor who called 911 in a panic was the first to report the fire.
“The whole trailer’s on fire now and I’m not in...And her truck is still there and they must have been in and I don’t know, I don’t know,” the caller said.
“You think they’re all still in the house?” the 911 operator said.
“Yes, but it’s too late,” the neighbor responded.
That devastating theory was confirmed later when firefighters uncovered the remains of a 40-year-old woman, her 11-year-old daughter and her 7-year-old son.
“We didn’t know at first if anyone was inside the structure but later determined we did find three bodies,” Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said.
Family members told News4JAX the mother’s name Lesley Moore. She was Mitchell Tanner’s niece.
“I don’t understand it, I’m lost, I’m hurt,” Tanner said. “Something’s not right. You don’t sleep through all that. One of them is going to wake up. I want to know why they didn’t wake up.”
The state fire marshal and the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office are working to answer those questions.
Accounts from neighbors described a loud “boom” sound before the fire and the 911 calls point to a possible explosion of some kind.
“I just heard some pop in and I looked over there and there’s three people there and some dogs I don’t know,” the neighbor said.
Until more is uncovered, Tanner and the rest of the community are left wondering.
“How does it burn to the frame before the fire department or anything can get here?” Tanner said.
“Nassau County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Nassau County Fire Department responded. When they arrived, the structure was fully ablaze and they tried to put the fire out, but it was totally destroyed,” Leeper said. “The structure is totally destroyed all the way down to the beams. There’s really nothing left.”
The family wasn’t discovered until firefighters were putting out hot spots in the home. Leeper said it’s unclear exactly where the mother and children were found in the home but they were not found together.
Leeper said the father was out of town at the time. He’s been notified and is on his way home, the sheriff said Thursday morning.
“Just a sad situation,” Leeper said, adding that the children attended Hilliard Elementary School. “We see these things sometimes when the temperatures drop certainly, but that’s not to say the cause. We’re trying to determine that. The fire marshal will figure that out. Just a reminder to be careful when you run heaters.”
Nassau County schools issued a statement after the tragedy:
“Additional school social workers respond to the school along with the assigned school based social worker. They provide grief counseling and assess the needs of the students, staff, and families. They provide comfort and a safe space to for students and staff to share their feelings surrounding the critical event. They also provide connections with outside resources for families and staff to access. Additional school social workers follow up over the course of several days. The students, staff, and families are encouraged to reach out to the school-based provider if they are in need of additional resources as well.”