Hamtramck family killed in fire shared love of sports
Hamtramck — James and Freddye Parker were dedicated to being positive role models for inner-city children and providing sports as an alternative to street life.
But the youth sports community suffered a major loss Tuesday, after the Parkers and two of their children were killed in a fire at their home in the 5000 block of Yemans in Hamtramck.
Parker, his wife, both 47; and their sons, James, 11, and Jarred, 7, were killed when flames engulfed the structure around 1:50 a.m.
James Parker coached sports with the Motor City All-Stars youth teams, which is affiliated with the Detroit Police Athletic League, while his wife was also involved with the program, which offered sports and cheerleading.
"He was just trying to recruit my son to play on his basketball team," Maleeka Glover said. "He was great with the kids."
PAL Athletic Director Dewayne Jones said James and Freddye Parker were committed to youth sports.
"They were both heavily involved, and their two kids played with us, too," Jones said. "His wife was involved in cheerleading, basketball, baseball and football, and James was as well.
"He came to us three years ago and was really eager and anxious to help out where he could. He believed in our message of character building and wanted to do some good in the community."
Jones said the Parkers were placed at the Central Collegiate Academy, formerly Central High School, where they practiced.
"It was identified as a ZIP code where a lot of resources were needed," he said. "It was a tough task but they were committed to making kids' lives better, and they were really doing a good job at it.
"They sacrificed a lot to make sure things went smoothly, and really did a nice job with those kids. It was a really concerted effort to bring kids and families together. It's a sad loss."
Jarred Parker was recently featured on PAL's "Building Character in Young People" website.
"My favorite part about PAL is that you can play sports at any time of the year," he said.
The website said: "The second grader's commitment to both athletic and personal growth can be linked back to his family members, and role models."
It added Jarred came to the Detroit area from Mississippi, attended Schofield Elementary and played football, baseball and basketball. His father, the site said, was head coach of the Motor City All-Stars baseball and basketball teams.
The family also had two older children who are in college, neighbors said.
After the fire broke out in the Parker home, firefighters from Hamtramck and Detroit responded, but were unable to get inside the house, which sits near the corner of Yemans and Buffalo, near Caniff, Hamtramck Fire Chief Paul Wilk said.
"The back of the house was fully involved with fire," he said. "(Firefighters) got about halfway through the downstairs and they pulled out. There was too much fire."
The four victims were trapped upstairs as flames engulfed the staircase, Wilk said.
Wilk could not be reached Tuesday evening for an update on the fire investigation. DTE Energy officials said the utility bills were up-to-date on the home.
"It's sad," said Wendy Knott, who rushed from her house down the street after seeing the flames. "They were very respected in the community. The firefighters tried to get inside the house, but the fire was too strong, and they got pushed back. Then the windows started busting out."
Just a few yards east of the house sits a fire hydrant bearing a yellow "out of service" sign.
"They're going to get that fixed, but it's too late now," Knott said.
Despite the broken hydrant, Wilk said firefighters were able to draw from 1,000 gallons of water stored on a firetruck as well as water from a second hydrant nearby.
"We never lost water," he said. "Everything freezes instantly so it becomes slippery, but once we get inside we try to do our jobs and work through it."
Knott's son, Javier Whitaker, 11, said he was sad to lose his friend, James.
"He was the best at football," Whitaker said, after signing a placard that was taped to the front porch by neighbors. "He was always playing here in the street."
Neighbors Rose Landini and Glover gathered stuffed animals and a football to place on the front steps as a memorial. They also taped up the placard, which reads, "In Loving Memory," and was signed by those who knew the victims.
"It's just terrible," Landini said. "They were good people"
Detroit News Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed.