7-year-old girl killed in Pemberton house fire

PEMBERTON TWP., N.J. - December 29, 2011

The fire was discovered just after 11:30 p.m. by a neighbor who was putting out the garbage and quickly dialed 911.

"While I was on the phone, [the flames] started rolling out the window, the grass started burning, the whole front of the house was going up in flames," the neighbor said.

Police say all five children inside were asleep when the blaze broke out inside the home along the 300 block of Seminole Trail in Pemberton Township.

4 of the 5 children - ages 3,6,11 and 14 - who were in the burning house escaped and ran to neighbors, but 7-year-old Lamiyah Graves did not.

Her 14-year-old sister who'd been left in charge tried to save Lamiyah, but couldn't.

"She was saying it's her fault, she's a failure, she could have done better. But she did her best," Stephen McColligan of Brown Mills said.

Neighbor Ana Godfrey ran to the house to try to find Lamiyah.

"I went down on the ground to see she if was on the floor somewhere. I couldn't see her. She wasn't responding to me," Godfrey said.

She was later found in a bedroom closet.

Officials say Lamyah may have gotten lost in all the smoke while trying to get out.

The fire moved fast. When fire crews arrived, they were met with heavy flames on the first floor of the single family home. Tanker trucks were brought in to help battle the blaze. It took over an hour to get the fire under control.

Authorities say there was a partial structural collapse and heavy fire made it difficult to get to the little girl.

Authorities say 34-year-old Sharita Turner, who has nine children, went to Philadelphia yesterday to co-sign a car lease for a son. She told detectives she missed the bus back to Pemberton.

"During the day of her absence there were several contacts made by her with her cell phone to the kids at home to make sure everything was okay," Burlington County Prosecutor Bob Bernardi said.

And it was, until the fire started.

Shirita was notified of the fire and someone drove her back to the house.

Investigators are checking Shirita Turner's story and looking into the cause of the fatal blaze which does not look to be suspicious or intentional.

The prosecutor says it doesn't appear the children were playing with candles or lighting matches. The fire may have started with a faulty space heater or a curling iron found in the bedroom. That will be determined by the fire marshal.

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