Why did these killings have to happen?
It doesn’t add up, yet that was the equation that police and prosecutors said led to the worst mass murder in Youngstown’s history on Jan. 23, 2008.
The arson at 1645 Stewart Ave. killed Carol Crawford, her daughter Jennifer and Jennifer’s four children.
As the Mahoning County reporter for The Tribune Chronicle of Warren at the time, I covered the fire and its aftermath.
Today’s story accompanying this column on the approaching 10th anniversary of the fire has triggered a lot of memories.
First and foremost is the bitter cold that January morning. I had just dropped my two older children off at school and was going home to get ready for work when I heard on the radio of the fire. At the time, the report said several people died, and I knew I would be outside the majority of the day, so when I got home and got ready for work I put on my cold weather gear and loaded my car with more.
None of it was enough.
Ice coated everything. It coated the road, the house, the front yard, the fire engines. Breath fogged in front of everyone’s faces.
I was there after the bodies were removed, and in retrospect I am glad I was.
Flash forward maybe a week later and the other image I will always take with me is six coffins in a church when I covered the funeral for the family.
It didn’t look right. There were people dancing, singing, crying and praising God, but somehow, amid all that cacophony, six coffins brought it all home brutally, no matter how many Bible passages, psalms or hymns were sung, mostly because they didn’t get there by accident.
And that brings me to the last thing I will never forget, and which, to this day, is still puzzling – they were killed because of a cellphone.
The motive for the crime, according to investigators, was the inability of Michael Davis, who was convicted of setting the fire and is spending 180 years in prison, to retrieve his cellphone that reportedly was in the Crawfords’ home.
At the trial, witnesses testified that Davis and the Crawfords used to be friends, that they used to play football regularly on the lots around the neighborhood until something I can’t remember now soured that relationship and they took the phone.
Davis, who looked like he only needed to shave once a week at the time and was rail thin, said nothing after he was convicted and declined to answer questions for the story.
Retia Crawford, Carol’s daughter, said she wants to ask him why someday if she ever works up the nerve to talk to him, but something tells me he will never speak to her, either.
Whatever reasons he may have had for setting the blaze will go with him into the great beyond, where no one cares about how or what or where or why.
I was also touched, greatly, when Retia referred to her mother as “mommy” every time she spoke of her when I talked to her recently. It is a reminder that the pain and loss from violent, unforeseen death never goes away.
We tend to forget that when the trial is over and the bad guy goes to jail, and we move on to the next big story.
I’m glad she reminded me.