Coroner Ben McKnight said he pronounced the 3-year-old dead at the home on the 17000 block of U.S. 78 Thursday. The older child died later at Higgins General Hospital in Bremen, Ga., he said.
Adults in the home escaped with the 6-year-old, but were unable to reach the younger child. Firefighters tried to get in the home to reach the toddler, but were unable to do so until it was too late, Fruithurst Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Chad Roberts said Thursday.
McKnight declined to release the children’s names Friday or identify their family because the fire is still under investigation, he said. On Thursday, McKnight acknowledged there had been two deaths in the fire, but declined to provide the ages of the victims.
The Fire Department was notified of the blaze by passersby at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, Roberts said. Trucks arrived a few minutes later to find the home engulfed in flames, he said.
The Fruithurst community was reeling Friday from the loss. In this tight-knit community, word had already spread about Tommy and Bridget Amos and their children. At the Fruithurst General Store on Friday morning, co-owner Kelly Clay was taking up a collection for the family to cover immediate expenses, she said.
“Any time there’s a fire in the community and with family, we put the jug up for a week,” Clay said. “This time maybe longer.”
Next door, at the attached Fruithurst Family Restaurant, Beth Williams was seated with friends, all of them well aware of the tragedy.
Williams knows the family through her children, who attended school with Amos’ children — including the two that died in the fire, 6-year-old Brendan Clayton and 3-year-old Tristan Amos.
Brendan was “cute as a button,” Williams said. “He did remind me of Opie Taylor — was that the name on Andy Griffith — with his freckles.”
Williams said she was helping to organize a fundraiser through the Fruithurst Elementary Parent Teacher Organization for the surviving Amos family: Tommy, 37, and Bridget, 25, and their children Destiny, 16, and Justin, about 13. Rita Hall, Bridget’s mother, also lived with the family, Williams said.
All three adults were taken to Higgins General Hospital in Bremen, Ga. The other two children had left for school before the fire, Williams said. Brendan wasn’t feeling well that morning and hadn’t gone to school, she added.
Tommy is known as “Tattoo Tommy” around Fruithurst, Williams said. He’s a tattoo artist by trade. Williams described Bridget as cute and bubbly.
“This is a small community,” Williams said. “They say if you don’t know your business, someone else will.”
One result of that intimacy is that the community comes together to support its families suffering through a fire or some other emergency, Williams said.
Robbie Hutchinson, seated next to Williams, agreed.
“We may not have been close to ’em, but in a thing like this, they’re family,” she said.
Messages of shock and condolence started appearing on the parents’ Facebook page hours after the fire. Friday people were gathered at “the watering hole,” as Williams calls the restaurant, organizing a community prayer vigil for Sunday at the Fruithurst Baptist Church and a multi-church fundraiser tentatively set for Feb. 1. Donations can be taken to the store or to Fruithurst Elementary School, Williams said.
The family, they said, has asked not to be contacted, even by friends for the time being.
The Red Cross is contacting the family through Gena Teague, a family friend, said Chris Osborne, the agency’s regional communications officer.
Teague said she has known Tommy Amos since he moved to Fruithurst at least a decade ago. He and her son are friends, she said.
“He’s one of my kids,” Teague said. “You couldn’t ask for a better person. He would give you the shirt off his back.”
She met Bridget through Tommy about five years ago when the couple first started dating, Teague said.
The family was staying at a friend’s home Friday and was trying to “wrap their minds around” what happened, Teague said. Tommy Amos, who has Type 1 diabetes, won’t be able to work for a time, Teague said. He was burned and cut on his hands and arms. Bridget Amos and Hall were treated for smoke inhalation. Bridget Amos was also treated for minor cuts, Teague said. They all were released from Higgins General Hospital by Thursday afternoon, Teague said. But they’re grieving, she said. The whole town is.
“We’ve lost children in this community before, but nothing ever like this,” said Dale Wilkie, also at the Fruithurst restaurant.
Williams said that’s why the community has come together the way it has.
“It takes a community to heal,” she said. “The community has to heal.”
A prayer vigil is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday at Fruithurst Baptist Church at 125 School St.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.