Principals remember the smiles of three young fire victims

North Elementary will
create a memorial wall for the sisters killed in the fire.



YOUNGSTOWN — The principal of North Elementary remembers that Ranaisha and Jeannine Crawford were always smiling.

“They always had a lovely smile on their face. They were kind,” said Cathy Dorbish, reflecting on her two young charges who perished in a fire at their home early Wednesday.

The children at North have been writing cards in remembrance of their classmates, and a memorial wall will be created in the school to house all of that work.

The children’s notes show that Ranaisha, 8, a second-grader, and Jeannine, 5, in kindergarten, were well-liked, Dorbish said, adding, “The girls had many friends.”

She shared one anecdote about Ranaisha who, on one of her last afternoons in school, suddenly announced to her teacher that she had decided to change her name. She informed her teacher that she wanted to be known as Shanequa, Dorbish said.

Robert Kearns, principal at P. Ross Berry Middle School where younger sibling, Aleisha Crawford, 3, who also died in the fire, was in preschool, recalled seeing her in the hallways with her classmates.

“Her smile lit up the hallway as they came in and out of class. It will be sadly missed. It can’t be replaced,” he said, adding that the Crawford family was well known in his school as some of the family children had been pupils there.

Kearns said he knew the children’s grandmother, Carol Crawford, 46, who also died in the fire.

“She was a great person,” he said, noting that she was in the school frequently checking on her grandchildren.

The girls’ mother, Jennifer R. Crawford, 23, and their younger brother, Brandon Crawford, 2, also died in the fire, which authorities have determined was arson.

Dorbish said she, the teachers of the two Crawford children in her school and the school counselor visited Ranaisha’s and Jeannine’s classrooms Wednesday to let their classmates know what had happened.

Some of the children had passed by the fire scene on their way to school and were aware something was amiss, she said.

Grief counselors were visiting the classrooms Thursday, and the school will keep them available for weeks or longer, if needed, to deal with any issues the children have, Dorbish said.

It’s a difficult subject to handle with children so young, she said. “You have to be honest and let them know and give them a chance to ask questions.”

The goal is to keep the children talking and writing about their feelings as a way to deal with their grief, Dorbish said, adding that parents of all children in the school have also been notified to share any needs with school officials.

Kearns said the deaths have also been difficult for the staff to handle, but they have focused on the needs of the children.

The East Side community has been coming to the school’s aid as well, with people asking what they can do for the family and the school, he said.

The school has deferred to the parents of children in Aleisha’s classroom to handle the matter as they deem best for their child, although the school stands ready to offer any assistance needed, he said.

Dorbish said grief counselors will also be available for staff during an in-service program set for Monday.

“Grief is a process,” said Dr. Wendy Webb, superintendent.

Children deal with it differently and school officials are attuned to that, she said, adding that the school libraries have materials that deal with the death of family and friends.

The children have to be encouraged to be open about their feelings, she said.

“We just have been devastated by this. The whole community has,” Webb said.

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