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3 deaths in Lincoln Park house fire 'an unimaginable tragedy'

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Donald "Bub" Ross Jr., Angelina Baker and Kaira Chapman were inseparable before they died in a house fire Aug. 11.

For years, the smiling, bright-eyed boy and the two women he admired were a constant trio.

Donald “Bub” Ross Jr., his aunt Kaira Chapman and family friend Angelina Baker were inseparable — heading to excursions, sharing their unabashed love of water, living it up.

“They did everything together,” said the 4-year-old boy’s mother, Jocelyn O’Harrow. “All three of them — they just brought out the best in you. They were always joking, always laughing.”

On Aug. 11, that came to an end.

The boy, the two women and four dogs died in an early morning fire that destroyed Chapman’s home in Lincoln Park. Only her husband survived; he was hospitalized.

To help relatives pay for their funerals and other expenses, supporters have launched fundraisers. Yet even while seeking goodwill gestures, loved ones are reeling from the loss.

“We lost three beautiful, good people all in such a horrific accident and the whole family is struck,” said Megan White, Donald's aunt. “I think we are all still in shock. I don’t think any of us have fully gripped the reality of it and it’s hard.”

Known as "Bub," Donald Ross Jr. spent much time with his aunt and her friend in Lincoln Park.

The two-story house on Mayflower Avenue where the blaze erupted was a familiar place for Donald. He lived with his parents in Monroe yet accompanied Chapman and Baker there so often some relatives joked they should head to court to settle visitation rights.

“Whatever they had going on, they were going to take Bub if they could,” said his mother, whose partner is Kaira Chapman's brother. 

The two-story house was also Shawn Chapman’s longtime residence. He and Kaira wed more than five years ago and recently learned they were expecting their first child early in 2019, O’Harrow said.

“We were counting down the weeks. I cried, I was so happy for her,” she said. “That’s all she ever wanted. She was amazing with kids. I’ve never met a child who didn’t love her.”

Kaira Chapman was expecting her first child early next year.

Caring was also second nature for Baker, who worked as a home health aide and had been a rehabilitation assistant at Rainbow Rehabilitation Centers, according to her Facebook page.

She had long known the family and also was close friends with Kaira Chapman. Eventually, Baker became a caretaker for Shawn Chapman, who is disabled, and relocated to the couple’s home, O’Harrow said.

By then, Donald was a regular visitor, and his two “aunts” loved doting on him, even teaching the tan-haired tot how to swim.

“Bub, Kaira and Angie, the kind of love they had for everyone and for each other was pure and could fill up a whole room,” White said.

That spurred her to start a donation effort through Facebook aiming to raise $10,000 for a memorial. 

Angelina Baker had long been a family friend and worked as a caretaker.

Meanwhile, an acquaintance began a GoFundMe account to raise $30,000.

The situation also prompted more than 100 people to buy pasta plates and participate in a 50/50 raffle during a fundraiser Thursday night at Oaks of Righteousness Christian Ministries in Monroe.

Leaders at the church, which offers an emergency food pantry, clothes closet, homeless shelter and other community services, welcomed the chance to host the event.

“It’s an unimaginable tragedy that happened,” said Pastor Heather Boone, who has led the congregation for about six years and attended the function. “A lot of people were just very sad and wanted to help out and rally around the family. There was a lot of support.”

The outpouring of grief reached the fire site. Days after the blaze, soot coats the walls, and the windows are boarded up. Near the blackened, brick-lined porch, strangers have left an array of flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, a cross.

O’Harrow hasn’t seen the offerings up close. She is unable to step into the yard or even glance at pictures, fearful of recalling her son's last night. "I know where exactly he would be sleeping," she said. 

The family still is uncertain what sparked the fire, wondering whether it stemmed from an electrical problem or another issue.

Lincoln Park police and fire investigators did not respond to multiple email or phone messages.

A memorial  sits outside the house in the 600 block of Mayflower Avenue in Lincoln Park where three people died in a house fire on August 11, 2018.

As questions remain, loved ones move forward with honoring the victims’ memories.

Services for Chapman and Donald were last week. Arrangements for Baker were pending.

Between tears, phone calls and harried plans, O’Harrow lovingly clung to memories: how her 4-year-old would watch cartoons and wield a Western-style toy rifle, pretending to hunt a mounted deer in their living room. Or how the two women he adored let him cuddle and bask in their presence.

Thinking of them on a recent warm night, O’Harrow was dismayed to realize some people would only remember the group as fire casualties rather than anchors binding a family.

She was comforted, though, by strangers who stopped to share their condolences.

“It’s nice to see so many people trying to be there for these three awesome individuals and try to help the families deal with this,” O’Harrow said. “It’s not anything anybody wants to deal with. Knowing there’s many people to help us makes it a little better.”