Ohio woman’s fire death follows high school graduation dream
April 29 was a milestone day for Chae’Von Bowman.
After getting her 11-year-old son off to school, the Madisonville woman drove to Dohn Community High School’s Walnut Hills location. There, she picked up her certificate that she’d completed the school’s 22 Plus Adult Program and was a high school graduate.
Bowman, 31, put on her purple graduation cap and gown and posed for a picture.
“She was in tears,” said Kevin Dunnette, her English and social studies teacher.
Then Bowman drove to her older sister’s salon in Corryville, where she worked part-time washing hair and doing makeup for clients.
After a few hours, she was back home on Peabody Avenue to make dinner for Anthony Jr. — turkey burgers and fries in olive oil — and waited for her husband, Anthony Sr., to come home from his job as a mechanic at an auto dealership.
“She sent me a text, she was so happy, she said she was finally ‘going to get that house on the hill,’ ” said Whitney Burns, 29, of Northside, Bowman’s youngest sister.
Anthony Sr. got home from work and wasn’t hungry just yet. He would be, his wife knew, so she went to the kitchen to light the pan of olive oil on low. Bowman, a severe asthmatic and exhausted from her big day, went to her room to rest for a few minutes. Then she’d get up to finish cooking a late dinner for her and her husband. It was around 10 o’clock.
Anthony Jr., 11 and also asthmatic, was asleep in his room. About 45 minutes passed. Sitting in the living room, Anthony Sr. saw smoke and heard an explosion in the kitchen. He ran to the bedrooms and got his wife and son out of the house and into the yard. Cincinnati firefighters arrived shortly before 11 p.m. Anthony Jr. was having a respiratory emergency and was transferred to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Chae’Von Bowman, born with only one fully developed lung, had awakened in her smoke-filled bedroom and was struggling to breathe. She appeared to use her inhaler before losing consciousness, say family members.
She died at the scene.
“She used to say,” said her sister, Whitney Burns, “all the time, “If I went today, I would have no regrets. I would be content with the life that I lived.’”
On May 22 at St. Xavier Church, Downtown, Anthony Jr. a student at Cincinnati Public Schools’ Academy of World Languages, accepted his mother’s high school diploma during the Dohn 22+ program graduation ceremony.
“She did it for him, for her son,” said Regan Adams, 41, Chae’Von Bowman’s aunt, of Bond Hill, who had taken her into her home and cared for her as a teenager. “He’s learning to speak multiple languages, and Chae’Von said, ‘How am I going to teach him and help him learn and take the next steps in his life if I don’t finish high school?’ ”
Despite a gracious, peacemaking demeanor and an innate gift as a baby whisperer to calm any fussy infant, Chae’Von Bowman had to be a tenacious fighter her whole life, her sister and aunt say.
She was born in February 1988, three months premature, with only the one fully functioning lung. She would spend the first four years of her life in and out of Children’s, where family say she was hooked up to breathing machines.
Even after breathing treatments, she could not run and play as a child with other children. She couldn’t dress up for Halloween because of allergies to costume masks and makeup. Whitney Burns, her sister, two years younger, caught up with her in school.
Burns said her sister never said anything but knew it bothered her that her little sister had sometimes caught up with her. Burns said she taught Chae’Von to ride a bicycle.
Burns finished her coursework in the Dohn 22+ Adult Program a few months before her sister and offered her class notes to help her. Chae’Von declined, politely but firmly.
“She wanted to do it herself,” Burns said.
She finished her studies at Dohn with a 92% average.
“She was always here, working hard, not saying much to anyone,” said teacher Dunnette. “This young lady finished 17 classes in nine months. Then she knocked out her five OGTs. Intelligence was never this young woman’s issue.”
The Ohio Graduation Test is normally administered to high school sophomores, who need to pass all five sections to graduate.
Chae’Von and Anthony Bowman Sr. had been saving to buy a house. They’d been together for 13 years and would have celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary on May 9, the day before her funeral service.
She’d stopped smoking cigarettes two years ago and was eating healthier, to the point she packed carrots and celery in her son and husband’s lunches. Heartache in her life never overwhelmed her gratitude. She couldn’t run and play with her son at the park. Steroids in her asthma medicine put unwanted extra weight on her that she struggled to lose.
“She lived with pain,” said her niece, Yasmine Zanders, 18. “But she never complained.”
Chae’Von wanted to build on her diploma. First was beauty school, so she could get a cosmetology license and cut and style hair with her older sister, Julia Arnold, owner of Ms. J World Salon & Day Spa.
She’d also had talked of going to school to become a respiratory therapist.
“She wanted to help people who’d suffered like she did,” Burns said.
Despite all of her plans, she was happiest with her family. Her sister and aunt say Chae’Von talked about the joy and fulfillment she felt as a wife and mother and how everything she ever wanted had come true on April 29.
“She had her education, she had her son, she had her husband,” Burns said. “She said she’d never been happier.”
Yet, in the final few weeks before her death, Chae’Von seemed to sense that the end of was near, they say.
She continually played a short Patti LaBelle song, “One of These Mornings.”
One of these mornings
It won’t be very long
They will look for me
And I’ll be gone
“I used to say to her, ‘Shut up, Chae’Von, turn that off, turn that off,’ ” Burns said. “But it was like she was coming to peace with her death. She was already at peace with her life.”