Two tearful mothers spent part of yesterday in custody, charged with homicide in the deaths last week of five children in a house fire in Larimer.Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette photos
Above: Shakita Mangham, mother of three of the fire victims, walks yesterday with her attorney, James M. Ecker, to the Municipal Court Building.
Below: Furaha Love, center, walks with her father, Lutual, and sister, Yolanda. The fire occurred at Ms. Love's home, and two of her children died.
Ernest H. Sharif, attorney for Furaha Love
Lutual Love, father of Furaha Love
Prosecutors say involuntary manslaughter charges are justified by the fact that the mothers left their children unattended. The attorney for one of the mothers says the women didn't cause the deaths and that the emotional impact of the fatal fire is driving the case.
Shakita Mangham and Furaha Love, both 25, have now acknowledged that they left their children alone, without a baby-sitter, according to police affidavits released yesterday. Ms. Love admitted to police that the two women went drinking, knowing that the children were home alone, according to her affidavit.
Three of Ms. Mangham's children and two of Ms. Love's died in the fire in the early hours of June 12 at Ms. Mangham's home at 6429 Winslow St.
Initially, both women told police that they had left the children in the care of a teenager from the neighborhood, but later both acknowledged they had lied to cover up the fact that they left the younger children in the care of their 8-year-old sons.
Jevon Irwin, Ms. Mangham's eldest child, and Huedon Chambliss, Ms. Love's son, survived the fire.
Ms. Mangham was arraigned on charges that include five counts of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of reckless endangerment, four counts of child endangerment and one count of filing false reports.
Bail for her was set at $10,000. She posted bond of $1,000 -- 10 percent -- and was released yesterday afternoon. A preliminary hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. next Friday.
Ms. Love, of Hazelwood, was arraigned last night on nearly identical charges, except she faces only three counts of child endangerment. Her bail also was set at $10,000.
Ms. Mangham's defense attorney, James M. Ecker, declined to discuss details of the case.
Ernest H. Sharif, Ms. Love's attorney, maintains that neither woman should be charged with homicide, because neither of them caused the fatal fire. Involuntary manslaughter is a death caused by recklessness or gross negligence, and is the least serious degree of homicide under Pennsylvania law.
"There's no connection with the mother being outside the home," Mr. Sharif said. "There's no causation between the mother being outside the home and the death of the children. The children died of fire. And the mother didn't set the fire."
He said had an adult been home, but asleep, the children still could have died in a fire.
"But what happens is, this is an emotionally charged case where you have five children who are dead, and we don't like where the mother was. So, emotionally, we try to make a connection. But legally, there is no connection."
County prosecutors and city police declined comment yesterday. But Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said previously that "these kids by all indications were left home alone with two 8-year-olds and that's not acceptable conduct in this community," indicating he believed that rose to the level of "recklessness or gross negligence" required by law. He also said he was concerned about the risk created for firefighters at the blaze.
Investigators had considered the possibility that the surviving children, Jevon and Huedon, could have caused the blaze while playing with matches.
According to the affidavit, however, Ms. Mangham believes it's likely that her daughter, Daekia Holyfield, 7, one of the five who died in the fire, may have been the child who started it. Ms. Mangham told police that she recently confronted Daekia about playing with fire after her 8-year-old son told his mother about an earlier incident when the girl was striking matches.
Mr. Zappala said no charges would be filed against the children. "We'll recommend treatment," he said. "We're going to look after their best interests too. That will be up to a judge."
Ms. Mangham's two other children, Dezekiah Holyfield, 3, and Cedano Holyfield Jr., 4, also died.
Ms. Love lost Azequel Rankin, 5, and Andre Rankin, 6.
All of the children died of smoke inhalation, the Allegheny County medical examiner said.
In their affidavits, both mothers admitted they had lied about the teenage baby-sitter early in the investigation.
Ms. Mangham said she lied because, knowing the children were gone and that she could be a suspect in their deaths, she wanted to remain free long enough to attend their funerals.
Ms. Love said she left her children at Ms. Mangham's home around 4:30 p.m. and went to work. She returned to the Mangham house after work and the women sat on the porch for a few hours. They decided to go out for a drink around 10:15 p.m.
"Furaha admitted that when she left she knew that there was not a baby-sitter and that the younger children were left in the care of the two 8-year-olds," the affidavit states.
Ms. Love was accompanied by her father, Lutual Love, three of her sisters, and Mr. Sharif, when she surrendered yesterday morning. "We're going to stand by for her all the way. That's the family position," Mr. Love said.
"Furaha's a good mother. She's a good daughter, a wonderful daughter. There was no intent on anybody's part that anything happen to these children. And to be charged with homicide is really, really deep to me, because there was never intent to hurt the children," he added.
Child care experts say children in this country are left home alone on a regular basis.
The Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., reported in 2004 that more than 11 percent of 6- to 12-year-olds are in "self-care" -- alone or with a sibling younger than 13 -- throughout the year.
Several hospitals in this region offer classes for children to teach basic child care for such situations. They recommend against leaving children, especially those who are not trained, in charge of other youngsters.
Legal experts say that most states, including Pennsylvania, do not define age limits for leaving a child home alone.
Jim McKinnon can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1939.