Overshadowing the darkness of the charred rubble and the blown-out windows were the glowing candles, the helium-filled princess balloons, and the smiling teddy bears.
A week after an intentionally-set house fire took the lives of three innocent people, it’s those people—58-year-old Sandra Carter Douglas, 21-year-old Shamira Staten, and her 4-year-old daughter Chy’enne Manning—who are being remembered as shining lights.
Friday evening, Dec. 22, just three days before Christmas, a vigil was held outside 7634 Bennett St. in Homewood, the address of the home where the victims lost their lives. The crowd had nothing but joyous remembrances of Douglas, Staten and little Chy’enne. They placed balloons, lit candles with the name “Shamira” on a few, and vowed to remember their loved ones forever.
“This incident has caused a lot of grief, obviously for the family, and that’s who were going to keep first and foremost in our minds,” said Alicia George, City of Pittsburgh public information officer.
“We received a tremendous amount of cooperation and information from the community during this investigation,” said Pittsburgh police Commander Victor Joseph at a press conference, Dec. 21. “Without it, we would not have been able to solve this crime so quickly.”
Investigators said many witnesses at the scene of the fire pointed out 41-year-old Martell Smith as the culprit. Smith was allegedly heard shouting, “Yep, I did it” as the fire was ablaze, as he stayed near the crime scene watching his horrific act. Authorities arrested him shortly thereafter at the scene, along with 26-year-old Tiasia Malloy, who was charged with aggravated assault on an officer and resisting arrest.
According to a criminal complaint, officers believe Smith got into a fight with 23-year-old Ricco Carter at The Spot bar in Penn Hills, early Wednesday, Dec. 20. Thereafter, Smith allegedly went to a Sunoco gas station on Penn Ave., placed gas in a can, then went to the Bennett St. home and set the three-story house on fire around 2:30 a.m.
Smith is charged with multiple counts of homicide and arson.
“Sometimes, you can’t explain human behavior,” Commander Joseph said.
Ricco Carter is the son of Sandra Carter Douglas, who died in the fire. Ricco Carter was not at the home at the time of the fire. Sandra Carter Douglas’ husband, 58-year-old Cecil Douglas, was inside the home at the time of the fire, but escaped by jumping out of a second story window.
Staten was the girlfriend of Ricco Carter.
“Our public safety personnel was hurting, our entire community is hurting, again a senseless act of violence has taken (members) of our community,” Commander Joseph said. “The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police will not tolerate this behavior. The people of the City of Pittsburgh will not tolerate this behavior. I’m pleased we were able to hold Martell Smith accountable for his actions, although it will never bring back Sandra, Shamira, and 4-year-old Chy’enne.
“This is a sad day in the City of Pittsburgh.”
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