Early Wednesday morning, a school bus which normally picks up the Whitsett girls and carries them to school instead drove past the charred remains of their home, where Morgan Whitsett, 16, and her 13-year-old sister Ashley perished in a blazing fire last Friday.
“Ashley was so smart, just like her sister,” said classmate Robert Morales, 14, as he waited for the bus. “She was great at playing the piano and always making people smile at school.”
Investigators and homicide detectives were still sifting through the rubble over the weekend trying to determine the cause of a fire which killed two teens and injured an adult in Alexandria in the early hours of Friday morning.
Fairfax County fire investigators said the fire broke out at about 12:30 a.m. at 2421 Popkins Lane in Alexandria, and within minutes a half dozen neighbors rushed out of their homes in the Penn Daw section of Fairfax County when they heard the girls’ father screaming for help.
“The father was on the roof screaming for the children but there was really nothing he could do,” said Marty Carpenter, who lives across the street. “He was crying and looked badly burned.”
Morgan attended West Potomac High School, and Ashley attended Carl Sandburg Middle School. Fire officials said they found evidence the girls had tried to get out of the house. The bodies of the two teens were found in an upstairs bedroom, where fire fficials said they had succumbed to smoke inhalation.
After firefighters arrived they encountered heavy fire in the front area of the house, which took about 30 minutes to put out. There has been no official cause for the cause the fire, which caused an estimated $200,000 in damages.
“They were sweet, well-behaved girls,” Carpenter added. “A little on the shy side, but model teenagers.”
Neighbors reported that while the girls’ father was trying to get them out of the burning house, a woman who was in the house left and sped off in a car. “It seemed really strange that someone would just take off in the middle of it all,” Carpenter said.
As of Wednesday, the victims’ father was still being treated for burns at the Washington Hospital Center, and neighbors were trying to regroup from the tragedy. Will Jernigan, 20, a next-door neighbor and a junior at Virginia Tech, has started a relocation fund to aid the father, an attorney. “The father was crazy about his daughters,” Jernigan said. “All of their teachers had wonderful things to say. They were very motivated academically and both talented musicians.”
The victims are the seventh and eighth fire fatalities in Fairfax County this year, police said.