CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - A South Carolina woman has been charged with four counts of homicide by child abuse in the deaths of her four young children who were home alone when they died in a mobile home fire, police said on Friday.
Hope Kaneshia Hawkins, 21, was also charged with four counts of child neglect in the deaths of her two daughters and two sons.
Her children, 10-month-old twin girls Myasia Hawkins and Kynasia Hawkins, 3-year-old Camaron Mason and 4-year-old Delonta Dixon, died from smoke inhalation, the Darlington County Coroner’s Office said.
An initial police report said Hawkins was in the front yard of her mobile home near Hartsville, South Carolina, when firefighters arrived on Wednesday in response to a call that a fire had broken out.
“That did not line up with what physical evidence showed,” said Captain Andy Locklair, spokesman for the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office. “She said she was at home when the fire started and that she had tried to get the children out. But no one was there (with the children). When all the fire apparatus started arriving, I think she arrived then.”
Officials said they believe the fire was accidental and started in the kitchen.
The children’s bodies were found in a closet, said Hartsville Mayor Mel Pennington, who is also a volunteer firefighter.
“The one thing that they teach you is that kids hide in a fire,” Pennington told a local television news crew. “So when you’re trained, they train you to search under beds and in closets. They were in a closet, all huddled together, hugging each other, probably scared.”
A candlelight vigil was planned for Friday night in Hartsville, a city of about 8,000 people.
“It’s absolutely awful,” Locklair said. “When you lose four children under the age of 5 in a small community, it’s always a tragic event. It’s tough on the first responders. It’s tough on everybody.”
Editing by Jane Sutton