Tuesday, April 03, 2012

TOP STORY >> Family says farewell to fire victims

Leader staff writer

Furlandare Singleton is mourning the loss of his fiancé and their five children, but he shared with The Leader a glimpse of their happier days together.

Marilyn Beavers, 30; son, Dequan Singleton, 10, and daughters, Sydni Singleton, 9; Haylee Beavers, 6, and Emily Beavers, 4, died from smoke inhalation after a small kitchen fire at their duplex at 3A S. Simmons Drive on March 22.

A group funeral was held Saturday at St. Luke Baptist Church in Jacksonville. Arrangements were by Gunn Funeral Home in Little Rock.

“I’m not sitting up trying to make it seem like we had a perfect life because we didn’t. There’s nothing perfect about life at all. We were blessed by God. We didn’t have a big house or nice fancy cars, but we definitely were truly blessed by God,” said Singleton, a truck driver, who was on the road when tragedy struck home.

The last memory Singleton has of his family is a phone call from 2:30 to 2:50 a.m., about four hours before their bodies were found.

“They were up, they were on spring break. They were sitting up eating ice cream and watching movies. You’ve got five people in the house and nobody makes it out. That is truly tough to take.”

He said he teased the children by saying, “you know you’re supposed to save your daddy some of that ice cream.”

“They loved sweets,” Singleton said.

The cause of the fire at Max Howell Place, a low-income housing complex, is still under investigation, according to Jacksonville Fire Marshal Mike Williams.

He confirmed the fire started in the kitchen and said it “probably smoldered out.”

Williams said he didn’t believe any-one opened any windows or vents.

A relative said he was told the fire started after the family warmed up some French fries in the oven.

Jennifer Gray, who lives next door in 3B, called 911 a few hours before the bodies were found because she smelled smoke.

Firefighters first responded to the duplex at 5:50 a.m. March 22.

They left 30 minutes later after finding no sign of a fire. Gray was told smoke had drifted from another fire across the freeway, about a mile away. That fire leveled an unoccupied home at 3400 Northeastern Ave.

Firefighters did a walkthrough of Gray’s apartment, an external walk around the duplex and used a thermal imager, a device that detects heat. The fire did not cause any damage to the exterior of the building, Williams said.

Two maintenance men for the Jacksonville Housing Authority, which manages the duplexes, entered 3A around 7 a.m. in response to a call from Gray.

They said the smoke detector was going off when they entered.

The two men found smoke and the children in their beds.

The fire had gone out by the time firefighters arrived for a second time at 7:30 a.m.

The fire marshall said the department uses thermal imagers frequently and it couldn’t have malfunctioned.

“When they fail, they don’t come on,” Williams said.

Firefighters also knocked on the door of 3A, but didn’t go inside when no one answered at 5:50 a.m.

Williams said it is department policy that firefighters not enter a residence uninvited when there is no sign of a fire, especially for their own safety as some individuals may have firearms and shoot at intruders.

The state fire marshal is advising the department in this case. The Jacksonville Police Department, state Crime Lab and county coroner are also involved in the investigation, Williams said.

Singleton said, “I don’t know enough yet (about what happened). I am definitely deeply disappointed in the fire department because I feel like they went out there and to me they didn’t do the right protocol. They didn’t do the job the way it was supposed to be done. They said they checked around the building and stuff. I find that hard to believe because they said they didn’t see a fire. But you could clearly see the kitchen window was just dark black.

“Now if the maintenance guys could see that, how come they couldn’t see it? I’m not sitting up here saying that they could have saved my kids’ lives. I don’t know that. But at least I would have had the satisfaction of them trying. I know they lost one of their own. And I feel like if you lost one of your own maybe you shouldn’t have been on the scene at the time because you’re dealing with lives here.

“The housing complex, she would complain. She really would. She would complain to the housing complex about her smoke detectors not working. She couldn’t get any answers to get it fixed. They said in the news it was checked once a year, but I can tell you right now, she stayed on it just for these purposes. You never know what could happen. They did not work, not in that house.”

The family was approved for a new house near Cato Elementary three or four days before the tragedy, he said.

“We didn’t tell the kids. We wanted it to be a surprise to them. You know they were cramped up into that little apartment and here we were getting a five-bedroom house,” Singleton said.

Singleton said he was home the week before the fire, when the family had reunited with Singleton’s father over dinner at Golden Corral in North Little.

“It had been a long time, two years, since I had seen my dad. We had our own personal issues. They were extremely joyful and happy to see their grandfather. My dad, I’d never seen his eyes go wide like that. It’d been so long since he’d seen the kids.”

“They said, ‘Oh granddaddy, give me a dollar. Their grandpa gave them all $2.”

The children had a money jar at home where they put all of the money they got from anyone. They were saving up for a trip to Disney World, he said.

Singleton said, “They were good kids. All of my kids were very, very respectful. You have to raise them to say, ‘Yes, sir. No, sir.’ My kids were like that. Their reading skills weren’t high at first, but after we talked to tutors they had started to progress. They tried to help their mom out. You didn’t have to ask them twice to do something, to keep their rooms clean.

“My kids were my life. I was working for my kids. Everything was for my kids. When you’ve got kids, it’s all about them

“They are in a better place. They are up there with the Lord. I know their mom is up there. She had a good heart. She had started going to church more. She had started dragging me to church.

“They could come and talk to me at any time. I felt I could talk to my kids. Anytime I was in town, if I was gone for two weeks, their granddad could tell you they would jump all over me, especially my daughter, Emily. I just cannot explain the type of love I had for my kids. All of them (Marilyn and the children) were my rock.”

Singleton said all three girls were cheerleaders for their big brother’s football team. The two older girls had been at it for three years and Emily joined them this year.


Singleton and Marilyn were planning to get married by a justice of the peace within the next month.

“She didn’t want to move into the house with two different names. That (getting married) would have made her happy,” Singleton said.

The couple met when they were both in ninth grade, 16 years ago.

She went to North Little Rock High School and he was at Sylvan Hills High School in Sherwood.

He was hanging out with a friend at McCain Mall and the friend was dating Marilyn’s sister at the time. She had come to the mall with her sister. The two were very close, and Singleton and Marilyn started talking.

Marilyn was working at North Metro Medical Center, cleaning offices at night. Before that she was at Pathfinder, but the schedule was too difficult to work around.

Marilyn took classes at Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock and she wanted to major in business.

“She was one of the best moms a kid could have. She was a neat, neat person. The house was always clean,” Singleton said.

He said she was very creative and liked to take the children to lots of activities and events like the circus.


“Dequan was very, very athletic. I let him know education comes first. Football players are smart. I said, ‘When you get into junior high, middle school you have to have a certain grade- point average to play football.”

Singleton said his son was a running back, defensive player of the year and player of the year, along with another boy on his team.

He said, “Coaches would say, ‘Every time we see you, your son lights up. He was so happy when you made his game or practice.”

Singleton once parked a truck in New York City and flew home to see one of Dequan’s games.

“I tried to stick to my word. I told my son, ‘Your word is your bond.’ He listened to me, everything I said,” he said.

Singleton said Dequan’s teacher took him out of his fifth-grade class early this school year and put him in a mixed class of fourth- and fifth-graders in the talented and gifted program.

“He was very upset because he thought they were moving him back down to the fourth grade. He came to me and he was like, ‘Oh dad they moving me to this class. I don’t want to be in this class. They’ve got fourth-graders in there. I can’t be in the class with fourth-graders. I was having fun.’

“By the time me and his mom went up to the school to talk with (the principal), I was friends with the teacher in his class. He said, ‘Dad, I thought you were on my side. How could you do this to me? Why would you do this to me? He kept a journal. I didn’t know that. He wrote, ‘I wanted to get out of the class. Next thing I know, my mom and dad were friends with everybody. They just turned against me.’”

Dequan was talented in more than one way. He won fourth place for the song he sang at Dupree Elementary School’s talent show this year and earned first place at the science fair last school year.

The project was how long it takes bread to get stale.


Sydni was writing her own songs.

Singleton said, “She wasn’t great at it or whatever, but she definitely tried and she definitely wasn’t ashamed of singing. She was proud of what she did. I told her that you can do anything in this world if you put your mind to it, believe in God and trust in him. He will lead you to what you want to be.

“Sydni tried to be like Dequan. If he got down there and did 40 pushups, she’d do 45. For Christmas, I’d have to get Sydni and Haylee makeup. As long as I got them makeup, I was okay. They’d use up a big box in two weeks,” Singleton said.


“That Food Network, she loved it. She helped her mom make cakes and stuff like that. She was learning how to cook.

“Haylee was smart. She said I want to help people in court, keep people out of trouble.

“Her grades started dropping this year. I told her, you can’t do this. She loved to talk in class, just like Sydni. I told her she had to get her grades together and I told her she had to read,” Singleton said.


Emily started school at Homer Adkins Pre-K this year.

Singleton said, “She didn’t even cry. She stood there with that little face and didn’t want to move, lip poking out. She was so sad. The next day we couldn’t even get her to stay home. She got up and was like ‘Mama, put my clothes on. I want to see my school.’

“Her mom the first day, she was just nervous. We went out and sat in the parking lot for two hours. I had to calm her down. (She said) ‘I don’t want to leave my baby.’ (I said) ’You going to have to get used to it because you’ve got to bring her every day.’

“She did that for a whole week straight. She was nervous all week.”