Monday, April 29 2013 5:53 PM EDT2013-04-29 21:53:39 GMT
HARTSVILLE, SC (WMBF) – Hundreds of family members, friends and even strangers went to Centennial Park in Hartsville Friday night to honor and show support for the four children who lost their lives inMore >>
Hundreds of family members, friends and even strangers went to Centennial Park in Hartsville Friday night to honor and show support for the four children who lost their lives in a tragic fire Wednesday.More >>
HARTSVILLE, SC (WMBF) - The South Carolina Attorney General's Office has taken over the prosecution of Hope Hawkins, the mother of four Hartsville children that died in a tragic home fire on April 24.
Hawkins faces four counts of involuntary manslaughter, four counts of homicide by child abuse, and four counts of unlawful neglect of a child.
The prosecution of those charges was turned over to the SC Attorney General's by the Third Circuit Solicitors' Office, who claimed there was potential conflict.
Hawkins' four young children died when their home near Hartsville caught fire on April 24. Investigators still don't know where Hawkins was when the fire started, but they believe the four kids were left alone.
During Hawkins' bond hearing in June, a judge set her bond at a total of $50,000, which is a reduction from the bond she was given previously. The conditions of that bond are that Hawkins cannot leave the state of South Carolina and cannot live with anyone under the age of 18.
Hawkins' defense attorney Tonya Copeland Little has now turned her case back over to a public defender. She was working for the family to have the bond set and her client released from prison, but tells our news team the family can no longer afford to retain her legal services.
The family of Hope Hawkins told WMBF News Reporter Ken Baker that they were headed to the jail to have Hawkins released just moments after bond was set.
The Darlington County Detention Center said the bond was paid and she was released from custody shortly before 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11.
From crime scene to courtroom
Charges against Hawkins were announced during a news conference two days after her four children perished in their home on Depot Street in Hartsville. Hawkins was arrested the following day and booked into the Darlington County Detention Center, said Capt. Andy Locklair with the DCSO.
During the news conference, Fire Chief Jeff Burr revealed that the investigation so far has determined the fire began in the mobile home's kitchen, and has been deemed accidental though they are not sure of the exact cause.
Sheriff Wayne Byrd spoke next, saying Hawkins gave conflicting answers to their question regarding her location before the fire, and when it started, but it is obvious she was not home with the four children, all under the age of five. The children were in the home alone and unprotected, the sheriff said.
At Hawkins' first bond hearing, a judge set bond on the unlawful neglect charges at $20,000 each, for a total of $80,000. Bond was not set on the homicide by child abuse charges, which carry a sentence of at least 20 years in prison each. Court officials said it would not be set until Hawkins stood before a circuit court judge, reporter Monique Blair reported from the courtroom.
During the hearing, authorities revealed Hawkins has no prior criminal record. Her public defender did ask that Hawkins be given a personal recognizance bond so she could be released from prison to attend funeral services, but that was not granted.
On Tuesday, May 21, Hawkins met the circuit court judge in a Darlington County courtroom to decide the bond on the homicide by child abuse charges and possibly lower the bond set for the child neglect charges.
At the conclusion of the proceedings, the judge announced that he wanted more information from the ongoing investigation before making a decision, and for now bond is "under advisement." A future court date was set on June 10. At the time, the judge may grant relief or lower the current bond amount before deciding the bond for the homicide charges.
"Right now it's just too much concern until I find out what went on," explained Darlington County Circuit Court Judge Paul Burch.
Hawkins's lawyer explained in court that her client is not a dangerous person, but a mother suffering from the loss of her four children.
"Judge, you can tell by the pictures in the media these children were well loved, well taken care of. My client is grieving for those children," said defense attorney Tonya Copeland-Little.
On June 6, a grand jury will decide whether or not to tack on four involuntary manslaughter charges.
The fire that claimed four young lives
The bodies of four young children were found after a fire in the Hartsville home, and the family dealing with that loss is being aided by the American Red Cross.
Capt. Locklair said the four children found dead were siblings.
The family identified the children as four-year-old Delonta Dixon, two-year-old Camaron Mason, and twin 10-month-old girls My'asia and Ky'nasia Hawkins.
"They were beautiful. Two boys, two girls. When they come around, they just light up everything," Janice Hawkins, the children's aunt said.
Hawkins expressed tremendous grief as she described the children.
"They were just some happy kids. Colorful personality. They a joy to be around. They just have a beautiful heart. They were just so loving and caring and the whole neighborhood know them, and they're loved by all," Hawkins said through tears.
"It's just like a world was taken. I feel like a shell of a person because of this tragedy and anybody that loses kids, can understand," Hawkins said.
Captain Locklair said the four children lived in the mobile home, located on Depot Street in Hartsville, that was ravaged by fire on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 24. The mother of the children was in the front yard when firefighters arrived.
The autopsies showed all four children died of smoke inhalation. Mayor Pennington, who is also a volunteer firefighter and was on scene, confirmed to WMBF News that the siblings were found huddling together in a closet inside the home.
"The one thing they teach firefighters is that kids hide in a fire," Mayor Pennington said. "They train you to search under beds and in closets and as it turns out they were in a closet all huddled together and hugging each other."
The Hartsville City Fire Department received a 911 call around 1:53 p.m. that Wednesday, and firefighters were on the scene by 1:57 p.m., according to officials with the department. The home was 75 percent involved when crews arrived, and the fire was under control in about 10 minutes.
Seven firemen, a fire officer, two engines, and one rescue truck responded. Hartsville's Mayor Mel Pennington, a volunteer fireman, was also at the scene to assist.
A community responds to tragedy
Resources from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and Horry County were called in to assist in the investigation, said Darlington County Sheriff Wayne Byrd.
The American Red Cross responded to meet the family's immediate needs by providing emotional support, financial assistance, food, clothing, personal hygiene products and other necessities destroyed by the fire.
"Our hearts go out to the family," said Linda Boone-Smith, executive director, American Red Cross, Pee Dee Chapter. "The Red Cross will continue to be there for this family and our community through this difficult time."
Hartsville Mayor Mel Pennington announced that the town would join together for a candlelight vigil to remember and memorialize the lives of the four young victims of this tragic fire.
That vigil was held on Friday, April 26 at 8:30 p.m. in Centennial Park in Hartsville.
Mayor Pennington also commended his community for their resolve. "This community has been tested these last three years. We have proven time and time again that even in the most adverse conditions, we pull together in love, support, and we persevere when all hope seems lost."
The mayor commented that this tragedy has taken a toll on him personally, noting that, "Yesterday our community experienced a horrible tragedy, and I continue to struggle to find the words to make sense of it. First, being a father before I am a mayor, I extend the condolences of our city to the family that is struggling to deal with this tragic loss."
"I am proud of our firemen and all of our first responders. They exhausted every effort to save these four children," the mayor added.
The funeral for the four children was held on Wednesday, May 1 at 3 p.m. at the Emmanuel Baptist Church. The children were buried in the New Hopewell Baptist Church Cemetery after the service officiated by Reverend JD Blue. The Young and Young Funeral Home handled those arrangements.