Investigators on Monday used shovels and rakes to sift through the charred remains of a rural Missouri farmhouse that burned to the ground late Saturday, killing three young children.
They had found two bodies before dark Sunday and recovered the third one Monday afternoon. They had not identified the individual remains.
“When they are young like this and several children at one time, it’s heartbreaking,” Daviess County Sheriff Ben Becerra said. “It’s tough, and how do you deal with it? The community comes together, and we do what we can to support the family.”
Becerra said the fire probably started in the first-floor living room, where the children were sleeping. Damage was too extensive to determine a cause.
Jordan Curtis, 20, who was baby-sitting five children in the home, told investigators he had been asleep when a coughing fit awakened him. The room was filled with smoke. He couldn’t locate a cellphone to call 911 but roused the children and led them outside, he said.
Curtis, who is an uncle to some of the children, got Travis Curtis, 10, and Drake Curtis, 8, outside. Both sustained injuries.
He tried to go back after the younger children but had to retreat. He was taken to the University of Kansas Hospital, where he was listed Monday afternoon in fair condition. Travis and Drake were taken to Children’s Mercy Hospital, where Drake remained in critical condition Monday. Travis has been released.
The home’s renters, Charles Allan Curtis and his fiancee, Cheyenne Uthe, arrived home as the house burned. They called 911. The closest sheriff’s deputy was six minutes away but by the time he arrived, flames had engulfed the home, Becerra said.
The youngest three children died: Jazmin Curtis, 6, a first-grader at North Daviess Elementary School; Kohnnar Uthe, 2; and Kouper Rhoades, 9 months.
“It’s a tragedy, and the community comes together after a tragedy takes place,” Becerra said.
The residence had a wood-burning stove. Becerra said that could have been the source of the fire.
Drake attends second grade. Travis is a fourth-grader at the North Daviess Elementary School, which is part of the 70-student North Daviess School District.
School officials on Monday brought in crisis counselors from a neighboring district to speak with students, Superintendent Wendell Burns said.
“It’s been a difficult situation,” he said. “We’re a small school … so as one staff member said, it is like a huge family, and so everybody knows everybody else, from kindergarten through seniors.”
The smallness means that when students are missing from class, others quickly realize it, he said. Even the youngest students know.
“They have a lot of questions, and it is kind of difficult at times for them to understand just what is going on,” Burns said.
Community members have called the school district offering support and asking how they can help, he said. Some collected food, clothes and cash donations for the family.
Burns described the Curtis children as typical farm kids. “They’re energetic and they like to play and (they’re) good little workers.”
A friend of the family set up a collection box at the Casey’s General Store in nearby Gallatin.
On Monday, volunteer firefighters and officials from the Missouri State Fire Marshal’s office sifted through the wreckage of the home just outside Jameson, population 133. They requested assistance from the Kansas City police K-9 unit.
Smoke from embers rose from the debris as they worked.
The home was built more than 100 years ago, Becerra said.
“With an old house like that, they go up like a matchbook,” he said.
The Star’s Brian Burnes contributed to this report.