Mother of fire victims charged with homicide by child abuse

HARTSVILLE, SC (WMBF) - The mother of four children who died in a mobile home fire in Hartsville has been charged with four counts of unlawful conduct toward a child and four counts of homicide by child abuse.

The defense team for Hope Hawkins has requested a mental evaluation, according to Mark Powell with the SC Attorney General's Office.

Powell said an evaluation has already been performed on Hawkins to determine if she's competent to stand trial. The results have not been released.

Powell said a trial date is expected to be set after the results are in from the mental evaluations on Hawkins.

The fatal fire

The fatal fire happened in the 2013. The bodies of four young children were found in a Hartsville home.

The four children found dead were siblings, according to the Darlington County Sheriff's Office.

The family identified the children as four-year-old Delonta Dixon, two-year-old Camaron Mason, and twin 10-month-old girls My'asia and Ky'nasia Hawkins.

"They were beautiful. Two boys, two girls. When they come around, they just light up everything," Janice Hawkins, the children's aunt said.

Hawkins expressed tremendous grief as she described the children.

"They were just some happy kids. Colorful personality. They a joy to be around. They just have a beautiful heart. They were just so loving and caring and the whole neighborhood know them and they're loved by all," Hawkins said through tears.

"It's just like a world was taken. I feel like a shell of a person because of this tragedy and anybody that loses kids, can understand," Hawkins said.

Captain Locklair said the four children lived in the mobile home, located on Depot Street in Hartsville, that was ravaged by fire Wednesday afternoon. The mother of the children was in the front yard when firefighters arrived.

The autopsies scheduled for Thursday in Newberry showed all four children died of smoke inhalation. Mayor Pennington, who is also a volunteer firefighter and was on scene, confirmed to WMBF News that the siblings were found huddling together in a closet inside the home.

"The one thing they teach firefighters is that kids hide in a fire," Mayor Pennington said.  "They train you to search under beds and in closets and as it turns out they were in a closet all huddled together and hugging each other."

The Hartsville City Fire Department received a 911 call around 1:53 p.m. Wednesday, and firefighters were on the scene by 1:57 p.m., according to officials with the department. The home was 75 percent involved when crews arrived, and the fire was under control in about 10 minutes.

Seven firemen, a fire officer, two engines, and one rescue truck responded. Hartsville's Mayor Mel Pennington, a volunteer fireman, was also at the scene to assist.

A community response

Resources from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and Horry County have been called in to assist in the investigation, which is being called a fire investigation at this point, said Darlington County official Wayne Byrd.

The American Red Cross has responded to meet the family's immediate needs by providing emotional support, financial assistance, food, clothing, personal hygiene products and other necessities destroyed by the fire.

"Our hearts go out to the family," said Linda Boone-Smith, executive director, American Red Cross, Pee Dee Chapter. "The Red Cross will continue to be there for this family and our community through this difficult time."

The Pee Dee Chapter serves Chesterfield, Dillon, Darlington, Marlboro, Florence and Marion counties and is part of the American Red Cross, Palmetto SC Region.

Hartsville Mayor Mel Pennington announced that the town would join together for a candlelight vigil to remember and memorialize the lives of the four young victims of this tragic fire.

That vigil will be held on Friday, April 26 at 8:30 p.m. in Centennial Park in Hartsville.

Mayor Pennington also commended his community for their resolve. "This community has been tested these last three years. We have proven time and time again that even in the most adverse conditions, we pull together in love, support, and we persevere when all hope seems lost."

The mayor commented that this tragedy has taken a toll on him personally, noting that, "Yesterday our community experienced a horrible tragedy, and I continue to struggle to find the words to make sense of it. First, being a father before I am a mayor, I extend the condolences of our city to the family that is struggling to deal with this tragic loss."

"I am proud of our firemen and all of our first responders. They exhausted every effort to save these four children," the mayor added.

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