Firefighters focus on family of six victims

YOUNGSTOWN — Firefighters who worked at the devastating fire on Stewart Street that killed six people aren’t thinking about themselves, said Fire Chief John O’Neill.

Twenty-four firefighters on the shift that handled the pre-dawn fire Wednesday were told Friday morning that if any of them need counseling, it’s available through chaplains or through St. Elizabeth Health Center, O’Neill said.

But mainly, he said, their thoughts are with the family that lost a mother, a grandmother and four children.

They died in an arson that’s being called the worst mass murder in the city’s history.

Accused of setting fire to the family’s porch as they slept inside at around 5 a.m. is Michael Davis, 18, of 817 Bennington Ave. Charged with six counts of aggravated murder, he’s being held without bond and will be arraigned Feb. 1 if his case isn’t directly presented to a county grand jury first.

He is also charged with 11 counts of aggravated arson. Five people made it out of the burning house as Carol Crawford, 46; her daughter Jennifer R. Crawford, 23; and Jennifer’s children, Ranaisha Crawford, 8; Jeannine Crawford, 5; Aleisha Crawford, 3; and Brandon Crawford, 2, perished in upstairs bedrooms.

A dispute over a cell phone was the motive, a source close to the investigation has told the Vindicator.

O’Neill said that none of the firefighters on duty Wednesday morning at 1645 Stewart has indicated a need for counseling. He said counseling is not something the department would force them to go through.

“Firefighters are like doctors or nurses,” he said. “Unfortunately, we face bad things often.

“It’s the profession you’ve chosen, and it’s what you have to deal with,” he said.

He said firefighters on that shift are all back at work, including eight who suffered bumps, bruises and cuts.

“And they want to be here,” he said.

The chief said they are warned to watch for signs that they need counseling — nightmares, or an inability to get certain thoughts out of their heads.

He said, though, that the overwhelming sentiment at Friday morning’s meeting was a feeling of sympathy for the family.

Others are expressing that feeling as well.

Summit Academy, on North Schenley Avenue, is encouraging every school in the area to have one fundraiser for the family.

Summit raised $217 from a dress-down day.

“It may not seem like much, but every little bit helps,” the school said in a prepared statement.

Rebecca Phillips, secretary at Summit, explained that many schools have dress-down days as a common way to raise money for field trips or other events. At Summit, where pupils wear uniforms, they pay 50 cents to wear jeans for the day. Faculty members pay $2 to wear jeans.

“We’re a small school — 150 students,” she said. Imagine how much money a school district could raise, she said. All the schools and school districts together could raise thousands of dollars to help the family with funeral expenses, she said.

Anyone who wants to donate money toward funeral expenses can do so at L.E. Black, Phillips and Holden Funeral Home, 1951 McGuffey Road, Youngstown, 44505, said a spokeswoman for the funeral home.

People can bring the money in and get a receipt, she said, or people who would rather mail a check will a get receipt mailed back.

Checks should be made out in the funeral home’s name, she said, and add “Crawford family” on the memo line.

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