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Eight Children, Left by Themselves, Die in House Fire

August 15, 1994

CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) _ Eight small children, left at home by themselves, died in an early morning house fire Sunday, police said. An 8-year-old girl escaped the flames unharmed.

The victims, all relatives from 5 months to 7 years old, were found dead inside, said Assistant Chief Harry Threlkeld of the Carbondale Fire Department.

Camilla Foulks, 25, mother of three of the children, had been babysitting the others, who were left there by their parents, authorities said.

At a news conference Sunday, Police Chief Don Strom said Foulks might have been in a bar when the fire broke out.

″We have several reports to that effect. We have confirmed some of those and we’re continuing to investigate other potential witnesses that might have similar information,″ Strom said.

Jackson County State’s Attorney Mike Wepsiec said Foulks was given a blood test to determine if she was intoxicated but results were not immediately available. Foulks was staying with relatives Sunday night.

″Because the investigation is ongoing, I won’t preclude any charges from possibly being filed,″ Wepsiec said.

Strom said preliminary reports indicate all the victims had deadly levels of carbon monoxide in their systems. He said the cause of the fire had not been determined but arson was not suspected.

″The fire was contained in one bedroom - where seven of the victims were found. There was slight damage to another bedroom,″ said Threlkeld. ″One victim was found in the living room.″

Threlkeld said that when police and firefighters arrived about 1:30 a.m., no adults were present at the one-story, single-family wood house on the northeast side of the city - site of the main Southern Illinois University campus - 100 miles southeast of St. Louis.

The victims were identified as Lafesca Gates, 7; Antwene Sanders, 5; Sherice McDaniel, 4; Joseph McDaniel, 3; Elisha Fonder, 3; Clifton Simon, 3; Carlika Simon, 16 months; and Carlton Simon, 5 months, Threlkeld said.

The 8-year-old survivor was not identified. The other children were all cousins, nieces and nephews.

Foulks, mother of the three Simon children, had moved into the house only Wednesday.

On Friday, firefighters responded to a minor kitchen fire there, said Susan Metcalf, director of Good Samaritan Ministries, which manages the house for the federal government.

″She had some problems,″ said Metcalf. ″She had a lot of support, counselors, people working with her on parental skills.″

Metcalf said Foulks, a single mother, had been attending a basic adult education course at Southern Illinois University.

″She did a nice job setting up the house and kept the children clean and neat.″

On Sunday afternoon, yellow police tape kept the curious away from the blue bungalow, located on a quiet, tree-lined street. The front three windows were boarded up, and two box springs and a bed frame - all charred - were dumped in the front yard.

A rusty sign in back of the house read, ″You are welcome to play here but please be careful.″