Weleetka Community Faces More Tragedy When 6 Die In House Fire

Monday, August 16th 2010, 12:38 pm
By: News On 6

By Tara Vreeland & Chris Wright, The News On 6

WELEETKA, OK -- Six people, four children and two adults, died in a house fire in Weleetka in Okfuskee County Monday morning, according to the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal's Office.

The Weleetka Fire Department was called to the fire at about 4:15 a.m. Monday in the 400 block of South Delaware.

Firefighters say Tavis Southern, 8, escaped the home and alerted neighbors.  They said Southern, who's mother was working the overnight shift at a nursing home, smelled smoke and tried to wake the others in the home but was unable to.

"He did hear smoke detectors, so there was smoke detection in the home," said Linda Heims, State Fire Marshals Office.

The victims were identified as Latoya Bush and Renee Buck, as well as Kurstyn Pelegrin, 9, and 10-year-old Tristen Pelegrin. Southern's two siblings,  Barbara, 2, and James, 3, also died in the fire.

The Southern children's mother, Crystal Kelough, 33, had lived with Buck for about a year.

"I'm fortunate to have one (child) left," Kelough said hours after the fire.

Sheril Murillo's was related to four of the six victims: She lost her sister, Renee Buck, her daughter, Latoya Bush, and two grandchildren, Tristen and Kurystn Pelegrin.

"They were the most wonderful and greatest people I could ever know in my whole life," Murillo said.

This isn't the first time the town of about 1,000 has dealt with tragedy.

It's awful tough," Dan Parrish, Weleetka Superintendent said. "We're a real resilient community but it's just about more than you can take, right here."

That resiliency was tested in 2008 when the bodies of 13-year-old Taylor Paschal-Placker and 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker were found along a country road.  The best friends had been shot to death.  No arrests have ever been made.

6/8/2010 Related Story: OSBI: We Will Break Weleetka Case

And just last year, a fire that started in a fire shop spread quickly. When it was over, much of Weleetka's historic downtown was destroyed.

6/13/2009 Related Story: Tulsa Volunteers Help Rebuild Downtown Weleetka

And now, the fatal fire.

"We'll come out of it smiling somewhere down the line, but it will be tough getting there," James Tudor, a Weleetka resident, said.

People in Weleetka say they've been more supportive of each other since this run of bad luck began.

And Sheril Murillo says she'll rely on that support.

"This is all of our family, the whole town is our family," she said. "Everyone will be affected by it."

Officials said it appeared an electrical fire that started in the living room was to blame and the only working smoke alarm was in the Southern's room.

Weleetka's superintendent said counselors will be on hand at school Tuesday to help students cope.

The Associated Press contributed to this report