Mother Says Smoke Detector Could Have Saved Her Boys

The mother of two young boys killed in a fire Monday says a smoke detector could have saved her children. Claudia Johnson says she had no warning that smoke and flames were filling her apartment on Jasmine Street as her family slept.

"I woke up breathing smoke. I thought it was a dream," Johnson said.

"I jumped up and grabbed my baby. I heard my two-year-old say, 'Help me Momma.'"

With tears in her eyes and a tremble in her voice, Claudia Johnson struggled as she recalled the worst day off her life.

Monday morning, fire swept through her Moss Point apartment, killing her precious boys - 3-year-old Philip Junior and 2-year-old Keyshawn.

"I tried to run in there and get him and his brother. I could not get in there it was too foggy."

Johnson's neighbors and firefighters tried too, but the fire was just too intense.

"I could not get them, but I can still hear them calling me."

Many questions still haunt Johnson, like how the fire started and why her she never heard a smoke alarm.

The day of the fire, the owner of the apartment complex told WLOX News the apartments had smoke detectors.

"All my apartments have smoke detectors. We do occasional checks to make sure they've got a smoke detector," Nathan Gray said on Monday.

Gray says his lawyers advised him not to speak on camera. But in a phone call, he told WLOX again that all the apartments had smoke detectors. Claudia Johnson says that was not the case in her apartment.

"He is telling folks he had some detectors and fire extinguishers in the house. If you look in all of them, you would not see a smoke detector or a fire extinguisher. It would have saved my babies."

Moss Point's fire chief wouldn't say whether investigators found smoke detectors in the Gray Homes units. Because the investigation is ongoing, he also couldn't comment on possible electrical problems Claudia Johnson says they've had.

"The back of the house, the lights were always flickering on and off. The stove stop working. We had to cook out of a crock pot," Johnson said. "Everything in the apartment was messed up."

Claudia Johnson doesn't know how her broken heart will ever heal. Right now she clings to the happy memories.

"They were always smiling, always happy. Every morning Jr would wake up, he would find one of his Sponge Bob DVDs."

And those memories will keep Phillip and Keshawn in her heart forever.

The funeral for the brothers will be Saturday, but arrangements are still incomplete.

Friends have set up a benefit account to help the family recover from the fire. Donations can be made at any Bank of Wachovia branch on the Gulf Coast. Anyone who would like to help with funeral expenses can call the Red Cross office in Pascagoula at (228) 762-2455.