Oceanway mobile home fire victims laid to rest

Dozens of friends and family members said goodbye to 10-month-old Janet Fowler, 2-year-old Rachel Fowler, 4-year-old Richard Fowler, and their grandmother, 53-year-old Sheila Swearingen.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Dozens of friends and family members said goodbye to 10-month-old Janet Fowler, 2-year-old Rachel Fowler, 4-year-old Richard Fowler, and their grandmother, 53-year-old Sheila Swearingen.

The four were laid to rest after a funeral Wednesday morning.

Thelma Carter is a relative of the children. She said a funeral for three children is something she could never prepare for.

"It's bad enough to have to bury one child, but to bury three, it's very difficult," she said.

The Fowlers, and Swearingen died last week in a mobile home fire in Oceanway. The cause hasn't been determined - but foul play has been ruled out. Carter said Jennifer and Richard Fowler, the parents of the children, are doing the best they can, and the funeral is the first step in a long road toward closure.

"You bury them, but the heartbreak gets worse," she said. "You get to missing them and then it's like you go through heartache, anger, then an acceptance, but it's not an overnight deal."

Thousands have been raised across the city to pay for final expenses. Carter said any money remaining for go into a trust fund for 6-year-old Hattie Fowler, the only survivor of the fire.

The Fatal Fire

Three children and their grandmother perished when a fire tore through a Northside mobile home the evening of June 17.

The victims have been identified as 10-month-old Janet Fowler, 2-year-old Rachel Fowler, 4-year-old Richard Jr. "Bubba" Fowler and their grandmother Sheila Swearingen, 53, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Hattie Fowler, 6, was the only survivor. Hattie was transported to Wolfson Children's Hospital after being pulled to safety by 13-year-old witness Robert Pritchard. Hattie was released from Wolfson June 18.

The deadly blaze began around 6 p.m. in the 12700 block of Palmetto Street near Oceanway Middle School

Jason Deraway lives in the neighborhood and witnessed the fire. He rushed to the home to try and help. He could hear the screams of people trapped inside, but the fire was to hot and large for him to enter the home, Deraway told First Coast News.

According to JSO, the children's grandparents were watching the kids because their parents, Richard Alfred Fowler and Jennifer Lynn Fowler, were incarcerated.

Richard, 54, was arrested Saturday on three charges including child neglect and was released from the Duval County Jail at 1 a.m. Wednesday. Jennifer, 31, was in jail on violation of probation charges. Jennifer was released from jail Wednesday on a work release program.

John Harrell with Florida Department of Children and Families said the agency had recently investigated the parents but the investigation was closed and reopened after Richard's arrest on Saturday.

DCF will determine the best place for Hattie when she is released from the hospital, Harrell said.

What's next for the only survivor of the Oceanway fire?

The Department of Children and Families said she has a long road ahead after her release from the hospital.

"I've never seen a situation like this in my decade with DCF, it's such a tragic situation," said Harrell.

Harrell said there is no final word on where Hattie will call home and lots of details need to be taken into consideration.

"Her safety, her stability, also her needs and concerns," said Harrell.

DCF said they re-opened an investigation into the family after the father, Richard Fowler, was arrested over the weekend. Both Richard Fowler, and the mother, were released from jail early Wednesday morning.

Harrell said DCF will be working with Hattie to make sure she has a safe home, and long-term counseling. "This is obviously a very difficult time and an extremely sensitive time for this young girl," he said.

Grieving Family

FCN spoke to members of the Fowler family Wednesday morning at Wolfson Children's Hosptial. They were there to be with the surviving Hattie. Her mother, Jennifer, had been released from Duval County Jail Wednesday on home detention with an ankle monitor so she could be with her daughter. Jennifer said Hattie was healthy and painting.

"I don't know how am I going to deal with it. I don't think I can sometimes, but I know I gotta be there for Hattie," Jennifer said.

Jennifer fought through her tears to speak, "I just want my babies back," she said sobbing.

Of the 13-year-old boy, Fowler said "I want to thank that 13 year old boy for saving her. I just want to hold him so tight."

She has a strong, heartfelt message for other families after her tragedy

"Hold your children tight tonight."

The family is trying to figure out a way to pay for the funeral cost.

Investigating the fire

Spokesperson for State Fire Marshal's Office Ashley Carr says it has narrowed the origin of the fire down to a bedroom adjacent to the living room. When time's appropriate they will also talk to Hattie.

Dogs walked the scene and did not alert of any accelerants – which means the dogs did not detect gas, oil, or lighter fluid. The Fire Marshal's Office has also ruled out an electrical malfunctions.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation and foul play is not suspected at this time.

Family meets 13-year-old who saved their daughter from burning home

The parents of Hattie finally got to meet the 13-year-old hero Wednesday evening.

"I can't quit hugging him, he's my hero, he's my personal God right now," said Jennifer in tears as she hugged the humble boy.

The Fowlers thanked 13-year-old Robert Pritchard for the brave act that saved their daughter's life.

Hattie got a chance too.

Hattie huged Pritchard and softly said, "Thank You."

"You're Welcome," Pritchard replied.

"It's been real emotional because after I found out that there was more kids. I just feel bad about it," said Pritchard.

Jennifer says Hattie remembers the fire and is going to receive counseling.

"She said that she just seen them laying all side by side and she looked at me and said mommy, she said mommy, 'they was already dead'," said Fowler as she sobbed. "She said that she heard Janet screaming and the fire was there."

Fowler says Hattie is doing well despite the circumstances. She says the children looked up to her because she was the oldest.

"She was the older sister, she would sit them all down at the table, give them all their color crayons, and sit Bubba (Richard Jr.) down and help him with his ABCs cause he was starting school this year," said Fowler.

Baby Janet would have been one-year-old August 20. Richard Fowler became emotional seeing the charred mobile home for the first time Wednesday.

"If It weren't for him, we wouldn't have no kids," said Fowler about the teenage boy.

"You're a hero to our family and I will never forget you and what you've done," added Jennifer.

Helping the family of the fatal Oceanway fire

Many in Oceanway have tried to help the family as much as possible.

Several churches and businesses have opened their doors to support and donations. Sabrina Poppell is the owner of Sei Bella, a salon on New Berlin Road, just blocks from the mobile home. She's planning a car wash at the salon to help the family with everything from funeral expenses to food.

"We wanted to do a car wash to help with the funds to help them out," she said.

Sarah Dixon also works at the salon. She says all the support sends a strong message to the Fowler family. "They still have love and support from the community and we're all willing to pitch in and help," she said.

The car wash was scheduled for June 20 at 9:00 a.m. It will be at Sei Bella Salon, 387 New Berlin Road.

Oasis Church is accepting donations for the family. They are open until 9:00pm Thursday and are located at 376 New Berlin Road.

An account has been set up at the EverBank branch in Oceanway. The account number is 0010021914.

Hundreds donate to Fowler Family

Friday's car wash at Sei Bella salon on New Berlin Road kept volunteers busy for hours.

"We've washed hundreds of cars," said Kimber Turnkett. She's an employee and volunteered at the event.

All of the money raised goes to help the Fowler family. Since Tuesday, the grieving community of Oceanway has stepped up to help. Thousands of dollars has been raised.

"It's something that touched the whole area," said Melody Milligan. She donated at the event Friday. "All of our hearts broke for this family, and any way we can help we want to help," she said.

Clayton Woods, the grandfather of the children, says all the help leaves him speechless.

"I tell ya, it's unbelievable," he said. "People that you've never seen before, you don't know them, and they step in," he added.

He says the 6-year-old Hattie Fowler is doing remarkably well.

"Hattie, bless her heart, she's doing so good," he said.

If you'd like to help the family, the Everbank branch in Oceanway is taking donations for the family. The Fowler's say the money will be used to pay for the funerals. Any money left over will go into a trust fund for Hattie.


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