MEDINA — Jennifer Okoye broke into tears and began wailing during a candlelight vigil Tuesday night for her 7-year-old son, Tashawn, who died in a fire the morning before.
A sea of more than 150 faces, including many children, sang “Amazing Grace” as the Okoye family approached them. Kids placed handwritten letters, pictures, stuffed animals and flowers on a memorial pile.
The night was lit only by taper candles in Styrofoam cups. The charred house at 223 W. Smith Road served as a somber backdrop while Baptist ministers addressed the crowd around 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve all lost something,” Michelle Powell said.
“We thank God for what officer (Nathan) Simpson did,” she said. “We thank God for Medina police. We thank God for the paramedics and for all the people who were here that day.”
Police Chief Patrick Berarducci spoke quietly to Okoye. He said officer Simpson decided not to attend the vigil out of respect for the family.
Earlier in the day, he said Simpson was “very shook up” about the fire and Tashawn.
Simpson tried to rescue Tashawn from his burning second-floor bedroom.
The fatal fire, which began about 12:10 a.m. Monday, has been ruled an accident by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, said Shane Cartmill, public information officer.
“A child in the house lit a cigarette from a candle, and then took the cigarette into the closet,” he said.
Berarducci, who was sworn in as the city’s police chief this summer, told the crowd he was sorry to meet the community in this manner.
Powell asked people not to place blame for this tragedy on anyone. She said “this is the time to lift these families up.”
Two families were displaced by the fire that swept through the second floor of the duplex.
Sharisha Law and the three children for whom she cares also lost their home on the first floor of the duplex, but she could not be reached for comment.
Law is staying with her sister in Medina. Okoye, 31, and her four children who survived the fire are staying with a babysitter, family members said.
Physical and monetary donations may be made for the Okoye family at Damon’s Restaurant, 17887 Bagley Road, Middleburg Heights, or at Fifth-Third Bank branches, which are accepting monetary donations in Tashawn’s name.
Paul’s Pub will be sponsoring a benefit for both families on Nov. 15 at 2 p.m., bartender Andrea Stanley said.
The American Red Cross has provided vouchers for food, clothing and shelter for the families forced from their homes.
“Over $3,000 in American Red Cross assistance, goods and services were rendered to the families in need on this tragic night. These are dollars generously donated by the kind folk of this county. Please consider a donation to make sure we have funds for the next family in need,” Ron Hager, Red Cross director of programs and services, said in a statement.
To make a donation online, go to www.medinaredcross.org; call (330) 723-4565 or (877) 441-4565; or send a donation to American Red Cross, 704 N. Court St., Medina.
Contact Audrey McCrone at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.