Sampson County Fire Claims Lives, Inspires Hope

Link to FayObserver story - Sampson County Fire

Fire quickly engulfed and destroyed the home in Sampson County.

by: James Jarvis, American Red Cross

Andre Smith, or ‘Dre as his friends called him, loved video games, playing basketball, and watching professional wrestling. At ten years old, he was a full-loving child who always had a smile on his face and enjoyed goofing off with his cousins, said Sabrina Sheridan, ‘Dre’s aunt. “He said that he wanted to be a policeman someday so that he could help people,” Sheridan said. ‘Dre’s sister, Tashiya, had dreams of her own.

Tashiya was younger than ‘Dre, only nine years old, but she was certainly no smaller personality. “She lit up the room, “ Sheridan said. “She was always singing, dancing, laughing, or playing. She loved to ‘dress up’ and hoped to become a teacher someday.”
Two beautiful children, full of life and brimming with potential, will unfortunately never achieve their dreams, as they lost their lives along with four others in a tragic mobile home fire in Garland, NC on August 30, 2014. Six lives lost and three families left to grieve over what could have been.

Sabrina Sheridan remembers her sister as a hard-working mother. When Anita Robinson, 33, was not playing games with her children, ‘Dre and Tashiya, or helping them with their homework, she was hard at work to try to provide them with a better life. “She had a personality that everyone loved. Her family was her life and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her,” Sheridan said.

‘Dre and Tashiya were not Anita’s only loves. For the past seven years, Johnnie Newkirk, 35, better known as Kent, was Anita’s man. Kent loved working with his hands, said his aunt, Ms. Lizzie Murphy. “He was always working on car stereos, electronics, anything he could get his hands on. If you needed it fixed, he could do it!”

Kent was a family man, Murphy explained. “He tried to see his son [age 7] as often as he could and he loved Anita’s children as if they were his own.” He remained close to his mother, Laura Ann Newkirk, 63, until his final day.

“Laura Ann was a very quiet person,” said Murphy of her youngest sister. “She read her bible, looked out for everyone, and was really involved with ‘Dre and Tashiya. She cared for them when Anita had to work late and helped them with their homework and basically kept them on track,” Murphy said. When Murphy retired, she reconnected with Laura Ann and the two spoke by telephone sometimes three times a day. “We were very close growing up and it was great to become so close to her again,” she said.

“Everyone loved Possum,” said James Wilson’s mother, Queen Esther Wilson of Clinton, NC. James Wilson, known simply as Possum from the time he was a baby, was the eldest son from among 15 children. Possum was a rugged man – a product of 30 years of hard work as a farmer in nearby Clinton, NC. For nearly 25 years, Possum was Laura Ann’s companion and never far from her side. Queen Esther remembers her son as a God-fearing man who had a heart of gold.

Six lives, three generations – gone. Shortly after 12:30 a.m., in the early morning hours of Aug. 31, 2014, Laura Ann’s mobile home caught fire. “My grandson (Solomon) was the first person to arrive on the scene,” said Joyce Miles, a neighbor and Laura Ann Newkirk’s cousin. “He ran as fast as he could and tried to kick in the door, but the fire threw him backwards. There was nothing anyone could do. In a little less than seven minutes, the whole structure was gone!”

By all accounts, this tragedy could have been prevented if Laura Ann’s mobile home had been protected by smoke alarms. Fire investigators determined that there were no working smoke alarms in Laura Ann’s home.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, three out of every five home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. To help ensure that no other family endures the pain and intense grief that these families endured, the Office of the State Fire Marshal, numerous fire departments of Sampson County, the American Red Cross, and several other local, state, and national organizations partnered October 4th to install nearly 800 10-year smoke alarms in at-risk communities across the county.

Hundreds of volunteers canvassed dozens of neighborhoods across the county to teach people about fire safety, and properly install working fire alarms in their homes. “Fire is everyone’s fight,” said Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Wayne Goodwin. “By working together, by pooling our resources, and by reaching out to the most at-risk communities, we can prevent future tragedies.”

Through their grief, the families of the people lost that fateful night are grateful to see something positive come from their tragedy. “What they are doing now is just a Godsend and a blessing,” said Murphy. “It’s as if our family has been through a horrible storm and then when it seems darkest, the skies turn blue and all that’s left are little pieces. God will help us put the pieces back together and see us through. Hopefully this program will help ensure that no one else loses their lives unnecessarily.”

“We’re all grieving. We’re all hurting,” said Miles. “The trailer is a constant reminder for me (as it rests across the street from her home). Not an hour goes by that I don’t think of them. I remember Tashiya being so happy the day before… she was singing and laughing and it’s hard to comprehend not hearing that laughter again or seeing them run into the house from the school bus. It’s so sad to see so many generations lost in one tragedy. It’s truly amazing how many people and resources have flowed into our community following this tragedy. Hopefully their efforts will help ensure that no one else will have to experience this.”

To learn more about fire safety, please visit our Home Fire Preparedness page. To learn more about the American Red Cross’ Home Fires Campaign, please visit our Home Fire Campaign page.


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Community Partners Support Fire Prevention Campaign

Oct 4 fire camp 1

The 100 volunteers attending the Office of State Fire Management Fire Alarm training in a church hall before going out into the community.

A mobile home fire took the lives of six individuals on September 1st 2014 in Sampson County, NC and a result the community partners within the county and state banded together to do a fire prevention campaign on October 4th 2014. On the morning of the 4th approximately twenty community partners, over one hundred volunteers, approximately one thousand fire alarms, a few hundred carbon monoxide detectors and other materials came together for a one hour training session before forming task forces and hitting the communities.

Oct 4 fire camp 2

One of the task force groups, includes seven partner groups, ready to start the installations.

Among the volunteers and community partner groups, one group stood tall on the day. Red Cross Ready When the Time Comes partner Murphy Brown. The volunteer group was approximately thirty strong and many had a reason to come out. The fire on Sept. 1st took the life of one of their employees. There was a consensus among the volunteers at the beginning of the day was that this campaign is “a great way to save lives and help in the community”.

However, it was through the experiences with the task force group that I went out that made that quote come alive. The task force group that I went out with included two fire chiefs and fire fighters from Salemberg, NC, Farm Bureau, Murphy Brown  and a young girl who’s mother asked her to volunteer with her and assist as a Spanish Interpreter The very first home that we entered was a person who was well connected in the Salemberg community and the fire department felt comfortable with going to his home. The Fire Chief, David Hairr, explained to me that this was a gentleman who could assist in making connection with those in the community whom may not open the door to them and were the same residents who most needed the alarms installed. He was right. This gentleman rode his bike around the community, opened doors to homes of people who were out for the day but wanted us to do the alarms, he was there at more than half the residents we went to. It was a similar story with another resident, who was home-bound, she called her friends and in one conversation reminded the person that it was just the week before that they talked about having their fire alarms checked. By the end of the day the quote ” a great way to save lives and help in the community” had taken a life of its own. The volunteer from Farm Bureau, said “it was great to actually see streets where his clients lived and know that the fire departments know the community and his clients have smoke alarms now”.

Any community organizations or businesses interested in learning about volunteering opportunities with American Red Cross, please contact Wendy Flynn, Regional Volunteer Relations Specialist, at or at (910) 610-8887.

Partners Included:

Union Grove Baptist Church

Murphy Brown

American Red Cross

Emergency Management staff- various counties

Clinton Fire Dept.

Harrells Fire Dept.

Office of State Fire Management

Clinton Police Dept.

Garland Fire Dept.

Rockingham Fire Marshal

Clement Fire Dept.

Halls Fire and Rescue

Newton Fire Dept.

Salemberg Fire Dept.

Plainview Fire Dept.

Turkey Fire Dept.

Crossroads Fire Dept.

Hollands Baptist Church

Farm Bureau

Nationwide Insurance

Taylor’s Bridge Fire and Rescue

NC Baptist Builders



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Volunteer Orientations with a Twist

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One very resourceful Program Specialist, Shannon Kelly-Miller, needed to be in two places at once – what to do? After some brainstorming and with the assistance of Disaster Lead, Debbie Williams, these two Red Crossers, decided to do Skype Volunteer Orientations. The Red Cross Volunteer Orientations are an important first step for new volunteers to meet our experienced volunteers and staff and hear first hand about what we do as an organization.  Prospective volunteers not only are provided details about what the role of a Red Cross volunteer is and how they can serve their communities; but it tells them the history of the Red Cross and the impact our organization has in the community, in Eastern North Carolina and the organization nationally. Our instructors are able to answer questions and assist in finishing the application process so that our volunteers are ready to have boots on the ground in all program lines Disaster, Services to…

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Board Retreat Brings Business Minds Together to Advance Red Cross Mission


Communications Committee Chair, Jim Harris, explains communications goals for this year. Photos by Paul Seay

On Thursday, July 31, the Board of Directors for the American Red Cross met to become acquainted with what is happening at the Red Cross, as well as to discuss its goals for the next year. We have a fantastic team of professionals on the Board of Directors and each of them are committed to serving the American Red Cross to the best of their abilities.

Being on the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross requires a passion for the mission of the Red Cross, as well as a dedication to the service of the community. A Board position is much more than an accolade to spruce up a resume; it is a real commitment.

Chief Development Officer, Tony Jeffreys, Board Chair, Chris Judy, and Philanthropy Committee Chair Anita Ali discuss goals for the committee.

Chief Development Officer, Tony Jeffreys, Board Chair, Chris Judy, and Philanthropy Committee Chair Anita Ali discuss goals for the committee.

This year the Board of Directors hopes to focus on developing and strengthening meaningful relationships in order to spread the word about the positive effect the Red Cross has in the Triangle Area. New Board member, Mike Riegel said, “My favorite part about serving on the Board of Directors is discovering new ways the American Red Cross influences the community.”

Another goal the Board set for itself is to remember to share the stories about people who have benefited from the Red Cross. While many members have not personally needed Red Cross assistance, most of them had friends, family, or neighbors who have. Even in the work place, Board Members are committed to talking about the Red Cross. Three-year Board veteran, Sam DiFranco said, “I am constantly sharing the message of the Red Cross in my office for awareness of its mission.” Realizing how ubiquitous the Red Cross truly is was exciting for our Board Members and generated a great deal of anticipation for the coming year.

Perhaps what sets the Board of Directors for the American Red Cross apart from others is their compassion and enthusiasm for helping people. “I think it is important to really slow down and remember to give back if you are capable…It can be so easy to get caught up in our everyday lives.” Said Donna Rhode, in her third year as a Board Member. The American Red Cross is undeniably fortunate to have such a committed, and devoted group of people serving on the Board of Directors. We are confident they will help us achieve great things during their time of service. Thank you all for your time, generosity, and dedication!

By: Jaime Lisk, Public Affairs Volunteer

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Red Cross Eastern NC Tornado Response Update

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More than two weeks after tornadoes struck eastern NC, damaging and destroying, hundreds of homes in Beaufort, Chowan, Perquimans and Pasquotank counties, the American Red Cross continues to help residents recover.

A Red Cross volunteer offers comfort and support to a Beaufort County resident whose home was damaged by the tornadoes.

A Red Cross volunteer offers comfort and support to a Beaufort County resident
whose home was damaged by the tornadoes.

Volunteers met with and reached out personally to dozens of families to discuss disaster recovery planning and provide individualized support.

In response to the tornadoes, the Eastern NC Region of the American Red Cross has:

  • Served 4,929 meals and snacks.
  • Opened 99 cases providing individualized support to 258 residents including direct financial assistance.
  • Mobilized 161 disaster workers from across the region.
  • Distributed 2,384 supplies including blankets, comfort kits with hygiene items, clean up kits and items including gloves, hand sanitizer, storage containers, sunscreen, bug spray, heavy duty trash bags, tarps, rope, duct tape, first aid kits, rakes.
  • Made 192…

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Happy Birthday, America!

Wow, it’s hard to believe you’re celebrating another birthday already! You look great for 226! Despite the hardships and challenges you have faced throughout history, day in and day out, you continue to forge onward and upward.

We recently honored those who died while serving in your U.S. military with Memorial Day, and acknowledged the 70th anniversary of D-day – the day the U.S. and Allied Forces invaded Normandy, France, in WWII, which was a significant turning point in this war.* Nevertheless, your birthday gives us another opportunity to reflect upon your armed forces. We cannot forget how instrumental they have been/are to the freedom that affords you the opportunity to do great things.

IMG_0338We’d also be remiss if we did not pay tribute to the unrecognized heroes of your past and present. These are the ordinary folks whose perseverance, hope, and selflessness have made you what you are today. Have you noticed this same spirit can be found in the supporters and volunteers of the American Red Cross? Throughout your history and the lives of your citizens, there have been (and will continue to be) “bumps” along the way. Fortunately, since the early 1880s, you have had the Red Cross on your side. These volunteers are quick to respond to those in need, enabling your citizens to recover and move forward.

On your special day, America, we revel in your longevity, and rightfully celebrate your birth with friends and family, enjoying great American fare and fireworks. It’s only fitting that we also give thanks to the protectors, builders, and healers that got you here. There is something about you that continues to attract and inspire such remarkable people. Happy Birthday to you, America, and Happy Fourth of July to all!

Find out how the Red Cross supports our military.

* In case you’re wondering, there is another patriotic holiday over the summer that often is overlooked: Flag Day, which honors the American flag on June 14. On this date in 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution that outlined the design of the American flag. Except for the number and arrangement of stars, the American flag has not deviated from that original design.

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Kangaroo Express Partners with Red Cross for Fourth Annual Salute Our Troops Campaign

For the first time, the Red Cross partners up with Kangaroo Express to give back to those who so humbly fight for our independence each day.

Kangaroo Express, an independently operated convenience store chain in the Southeast, announced it will launch its fourth annual Salute Our Troops® campaign this summer, from June 25 to September 2. During this time period, guests in over 1,534 stores across 13 states–including North Carolina–are invited to make donations in support of our service members and their families. If you’re embarking on a road trip, need to fill up on gas, interested in the cause, or all of the above, find a location that’s convenient for you.

The American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces volunteers will be a part of this campaign, which has already raised over $8.4 million to support a wide range of cause: from assisting wounded warriors and their families to providing grants and scholarships to help send children of active duty military to school. With a strong network of Red Cross volunteers across entire the Kangaroo Express 13-state store footprint, together we can collaborate and make an even bigger impact in support of our courageous military personnel through the Salute Our Troops initiative. The 13 states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

ROO Rides

Communities are invited to join the campaign in its Salute Our Troops “ROO Rides” motorcycle rides being held in support of the fundraising campaign throughout the southeastern United States. On July 5, the Triangle of North Carolina will ride on in this effort. Kickstands go up at 10 a.m. starting at the Kangaroo Express on 4402 Ten Rd. in Apex, stopping at the new Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Cary and ending with a Finale Party at Ray Price Harley Davidson in Raleigh. Click here to see a map. 

So join us the day after Independence Day in celebration of our troops! Ride on, and arrive early for a FAB giveaway! RSVP today. 

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