One of the two grieving mothers who lost young children in the Long Neck house fire on Wednesday posted a touching photograph of twin blonds, one facing the camera, the other looking tenderly at their baby cousin, whose smile revealed buds of new teeth.
Around the picture are the words, “In love and memory. Rest easy, little angels.”
That mother, Casondra Gentner, 20, lost her 1-year-old baby, Amaya.
Gentner’s sister, Caira, 23, is the mother of the twins, 4-year-old Veronica and Skylar Marchuck, and their sister, Kora Hitchens, 2, who was rescued.
Following the fire that resulted in an estimated $50,000 loss to the home, in the 34000 block of Scarp Street in Pot-Nets, the community, described by locals as closely knit, quickly rallied to offer comfort and aid.
Longtime family friend Albert Apicella, who was a classmate of one of the sisters, organized a GoFundMe page, setting a goal of raising $10,000. Within 20 hours, the amount was surpassed.
On Friday, he told Coastal Point donations will continue to be collected and that he’ll consider increasing the goal.
Although he wasn’t sure where the displaced sisters are staying, he said he believed they were with family members and asked that the community “keep them in everyone’s thoughts and prayers.”
“Try to give the family the privacy they need that we all would all ask for,” said Apicella, a fire fighter at the Carlisle Fire Company in Milford.
“I organized the fund raiser because they would do the same for me. I was listening when the fire came through, to find out it was my friend. I couldn’t just sit on my hands so I figured I had to do something. I could set up a GoFundMe page,” he said.
The money will be used for the family’s personal needs. Another $15,000 was pledged by the Delaware-based Good Ole Boy Foundation, to help pay for the funerals.
At a hastily planned vigil Thursday evening, Caila Gentner lifted her hands to her face. On her Facebook profile she wrote, “I got three beautiful girls and they are my world.”
Quickly organized on Thursday morning, the gathering drew about 100 people, surprising Christine Clark, who planned it.
“I run the Longneck Snowball Stand on Long Neck Road. I was at the stand watching all of the firemen and emergency responders drive by the day of the fire. I was sitting there when the forensic car drove past and it broke my heart. It’s something that leaves you with a feeling of being so helpless. I needed to feel like I could do something and I had no idea what to do.
“That morning, Pastor Lee Campen-Parks from the local church contacted me and asked me if we could hold a vigil at the stand. I said yes, of course. I contacted local businesses and asked them if we could use their parking lots and everyone agreed,” Clark said.
The Rev. Campen-Parks, she said, “spoke words of comfort and about how much our community cares about each other.”
A letter posted on the Pot-Nets Facebook page states the community has been “overwhelmed by grief and the outpouring of support for the family and victims of (Wednesday’s) tragic house fire.”
“We are currently working with Delaware State Police Victim Services Unit to collect a list of items needed by the family,” it states, specifying clothing in size 12-18 months, size 5 shoes, size 5 diapers and 2T Pull Ups diapers for the surviving child; shirts in size extra-large, pants in size 17 and shoes in size 7 or 8 for Caila Gentner; and shirts in size medium, pants in size 17 and shoes in size 6 for Casondra Gentner. Items can be taken to the Pot-Nets office, at 34026 Annas Way in Long Neck.
Several fire departments responded to the blaze at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, including those from Millsboro, Indian River and Lewes.
Delaware State Police, in a news release, confirmed the children were found dead in the back of the mobile home. When first responders arrived, the rear part of the house was engulfed in flames and quickly extinguished. Responders discovered the children when they went inside.
While the residence was burning, the other child was rescued and taken to Beebe Medical Center, where she was treated and released.
The bodies were transported to the Delaware Division of Forensic Science where autopsies will be performed. Delaware State Police and the State Fire Marshal’s Office are conducting a joint death investigation to determine the cause.
By Susan Canfora