Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

New Port Richey mobile home park fire kills twin pre-schoolers

NEW PORT RICHEY

About two hours after her oldest children were off to school, neighbors found Shannon Garza in her back yard, spraying a garden hose into her blazing single-wide mobile home.

"My babies are inside!" she screamed again and again.

Neighbors pushed out a window and tried to yank out an air conditioning unit to get inside and save the 3-year-old twins, but the smoke and heat proved too much.

Neighbor Kristy Holt stuck her head through the window to look for Micah and Miah Shaver, "but I didn't hear anything," she said, "so that kind of made me think it was too late."

The fire ripped through the home. Flames were shooting through the windows when firefighters arrived. The roof paint blistered.

Firefighters knocked down the flames and went inside, where they found the two tiny bodies.

• • •

The fire started at 8:54 a.m. Monday, said Pasco County sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin. Shannon Garza and the fraternal twins were the only ones in the house at the time. Garza was taken to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point with burns on her arms. She was released later in the day. Officials have not said what caused the fire or exactly how the children died, but authorities are investigating.

Garza's, boyfriend, Lonnie Stafford, wasn't home, officials said. The other two children, Yolanda Garza, 13, and Joseph Garza, 12, were in seventh-grade classes at River Ridge Middle School. Their grandmother came to the school shortly after 11 a.m. to pick them up, said principal Jason Joens.

Friends and family gathered near the home at 10637 Wabayo St., blocked by a yellow strand of sheriff's tape late into Monday morning. News trucks kept vigil. Two fire trucks, two ambulances and a handful of police cars parked on the other side of the tape as the shell of the home continued to smolder.

Word of the twins' death spread quickly, through text message or whispers. Many at the scene collapsed into friends' arms or right where they stood, including the twins' biological father, Michael Shaver, who showed up and quickly fell to the ground behind an ambulance.

"It's a nightmare all over again," said Paulette Dorner, who remembered the sheriff's cars and ambulances from 2010 when a pit bull mauled a 7-day-old boy at 10548 Olson St., two streets over.

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said in a news conference that a deputy was the first to arrive at the fire, but like neighbors, couldn't get inside.

Micah and Miah were hiding from the fire when they died, he said, but would not reveal where. Described as "inseparable," they were found apart.

He called the deputy's effort "valiant." He called the whole thing an "unspeakable tragedy."

Gary Mackey, Lonnie Stafford's brother, who lives next door to the scene, stood in his yard with a cup of coffee while forensic examiners combed through the blackened home a few yards away.

He remembered taking the four children for rides through mud holes in the back of his pickup truck. He said Yolanda was a "mini-mom" to the twins. She made them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, changed their diapers and warmed their bottles when they were babies. He said Micah and Miah (pronounced Maya) were sweet toddlers who kicked off their shoes and ran around barefoot whenever they could. They giggled and spoke little words and loved their kiddie pool.

"That's something you're never going to get back," he said, his voice breaking.

Mackey said he and his wife are setting up sites on Facebook and Craigslist so people can donate to the family. Mackey's wife, Laurie, said Dobies Funeral home has agreed to waive fees for the twins' funeral.

At River Ridge Middle, Joens said he plans to work with Red Cross to hold a fundraiser to sponsor the family for the holidays. He said he will try to contact the family later this week.

Other family members could not be reached for comment.

Garza's Facebook page has a photo of Micah and Miah across the top. They stand barefoot in front of a TV tuned to the Disney Channel. Micah wears a striped shirt. Miah wears a flowered dress.

They're smiling, holding hands, inseparable.

Times staff writer Erin Sullivan and researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

 
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