D.C.

Samauri Jenkins' vigil held in Southeast

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The 4-year-old girl whose life was tragically cut short in a house fire was remembered Saturday night. People living in the girl’s Southeast D.C. community gathered to celebrate her young life.

Emotions are still running high in Samauri Jenkins’ Hillcrest neighborhood. Her life was just beginning to bloom. The 4-year-old loved to sing and dance and called herself “Princess.” Amid prayers outside her gutted home, there’s word an extended family member is charged with murder in connection with the deadly fire.

“To have something like this happen just brings tears to my eyes,” says Karen Williams, president of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association.

“As a mother of four children, it’s unimaginable how this family must feel,” says Patricia Chittams, a neighbor.

The blaze broke out around 3:45 a.m. February 17. It started as a basement fire with seven people inside.

“They were out there sawing on the roof, trying to get the roof open, breaking out the windows,” says a neighbor.

Samauri was found unconscious in a second floor bedroom and died two days later. Her funeral was held Saturday.

For Mayor Gray and others at the vigil, there is an additional tragic aspect to what’s happened. Authorities have charged 46-year-old Jerome Lewis, the house’s landlord, and a distant relative, with second-degree murder. An altercation between the two may have sparked the fire.

“I can’t imagine that kind of anger or disagreement could cause someone to do such a thing. To set fire to your house knowing there are children inside,” says Williams.

Published reports say a police officer says Lewis was standing behind the house, the basement in flames, but did nothing to warn people inside. Investigators found a book of used matches in his pocket.

“I sang the Lord’s Prayer for her,” says Samuel Hooper, a family friend.

Hooper attended Samauri’s funeral. He is still trying to take in the death of the little girl who he taught how to whistle.

“She was very smart, very articulate, and it’s a shame, but these things happen,” he says.

Some here believe this was part of a family dispute. Police say Lewis may have had mental issues. But in the end, a young girl’s life was cut short.

“Many families in the city are touched by violence. Because of that, it makes it even more so senseless. The loss of life,” says Chittams.

Police say in the days leading up to the fire, Lewis says he heard voices and that he had been awake for two or three days. He’s due in court later this month.

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