Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 26, 2012

Authorities investigate fire that took 5 lives in Wheaton, Mo.


CORRECTION: The Nov. 26, 2012, CNHI News Service story from Wheaton, Mo., posted to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph's Website on that date attributed the source of an apartment building fire that claimed five lives to the wrong apartment, according to an investigation by the Barry County, Mo., Sheriff's Office. The investigation determined the fire likely started in the second-floor apartment occupied by victims Jonathan "Jay" Gemmecke, 32, and Molly Doherty, 54, and not a nearby upstairs apartment occupied by victims Mary Henning, 43; her 8-year-old son, Brandon Thurston, and Henning's boyfriend, Corey Hasche, 23. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

WHEATON, Mo. - Investigators said Saturday the Thanksgiving Day apartment building fire that claimed five lives in this southwest Missouri hamlet started in an upstairs unit.

They said they did not know yet what touched off the fast-spreading blaze but there were no indications of arson.

The fire broke out around 3 a.m. Thursday in the eight-unit apartment building in this southwest community of 700 located 50 miles southeast of Joplin, Mo., the scene of a historic tornado that took 163 lives in May of 2011.

Several residents escaped with only the clothes on their backs. Residents of a nearby twin eight-unit apartment building were evacuated for fear the fire would spread.

Victims in the fire included Mary Henning, 43, her 8-year-old son, Brandon Thruston, and Henning's live-in boyfriend, Corey Hasche, 23.

Also killed in the fire were Jonathan "Jay" Gimmecke, 32, and Molly Doherty, 54. They also lived in upstairs units in the two-story apartment building.

Terry Davis, 55, who lived below the unit where the fire started, said she was visiting family in Arkansas at the time, returning home to find nothing but burning embers.

"We all lost everything," Davis told the Springfield, Mo., News-Leader. "But more than anything, we lost five lives."

KaDue Yang, 23, a resident of an upstairs unit, told the Joplin Globe she heard a smoke alarm go off in the building about 3 a.m., and thought a neighbor might have burned something while cooking for Thanksgiving.

But then she heard a woman yelling for her family to get out. Yang awakened her 2-year-old son and opened her apartment door only to be greeted by flames shooting out the door from across the hall.

Yang said the heat was intense as she and her son made their way down the stairs and outdoors.

"The fire took over the building," she said.


Details for this story were provided by the Barry County Sheriff's Office, The Springfield News-Leader and the Joplin Globe.