5 children, 2 adults die in Knox County house fire

bestep@herald-leader.comMarch 9, 2013 

GRAY — A family member rushed to the scene of a house fire in Knox County on Saturday to try to save the people inside, but the two adults and five children in the small house all died.

The woman who died was three months pregnant, according to relatives of the man with whom she was living.

The two adults and three of the children lived at the house, but two little girls who died were there for a sleepover, family members of the victims said.

The deaths devastated family members, said Ray Disney, an uncle of the man who died.

"It's a sad day," Disney said as he looked at the burned house.

State police are investigating the fire. Investigators had not determined a cause Saturday afternoon, said Sgt. Jackie Pickrell. However, foul play is not suspected, Pickrell said.

Police did not release the names of those who died. Autopsies will be required to make a formal identification, authorities said.

However, family members identified the adults as Jesse Disney, who was in his mid-20s; his girlfriend, Nina Asher, 22, who was pregnant with their child; and her three children from a prior relationship, William, 3; Camden, 2; and Abigail, who was not quite a year old.

"They were the best kids in the world," William Gray, the father of the three, said through tears.

Two other girls who died, thought to be ages 3 and 2, were at the house for a sleep over. Their names were not available Saturday.

All seven likely died of smoke inhalation, according to relatives of Jesse Disney.

The brick and frame house that caught fire was a few miles east of Corbin, in a neighborhood where a number of relatives live.

Jesse Disney's parents live just behind the house that burned, said Ray Disney. Police said a neighbor spotted the smoke and called authorities. The fire was reported to state police at 9:57 a.m.

Disney, Asher and the children had stayed up late for the slumber party — a relative reported talking to Disney at 2:18 a.m. Saturday — so they apparently were asleep when the fire started.

Ray Disney said someone called his brother-in-law Gino Cima who with his wife owns the house, to tell him about the fire, and Cima rushed to the house. Cima went to a back door and found Asher lying just inside the door. He dragged her out, but she was dead, Disney said. Cima found Jesse Disney a few feet further into the house and pulled him out, but he was dead as well.

It appeared Jesse Disney had started toward the room where the five children were sleeping, Ray Disney said.

Family members say they believe Jesse Disney was trying to get to the children, but was overcome by smoke.

The fire started in a bedroom in a corner of the house. Jesse Disney had cleaned the carpet in that room Friday, so the five children were in a living room adjacent to the bedroom, Ray Disney said.

Jesse Disney and Asher had been in a bedroom at the back of the house.

Firefighters carried out the five children, Ray Disney said.

The fire gutted one end of the house, but the other end remained standing, heavily damaged by smoke.

Jesse Disney and Asher had lived together at the house for about two months, family members said.

They were fixing it up and were excited about the baby that was on the way. Jesse Disney was good with Asher's children, and he and Asher watched them closely, said Maria Disney, Ray Disney's wife.

Disney and Asher were trying to get Abigail to walk. The baby liked cell phones; Friday night, Jesse Disney had held up a phone to entice Abby to push toward it in a walker, Maria Disney said.

Asher had been to the doctor for an ultrasound Friday and had brought home a photo of the unborn baby, Maria Disney said. Asher would have found out at her next doctor's visit whether the bay was a boy or girl, Maria Disney said.

Asher's three children were typical, fun-loving kids, family members said.

"They were full of life. They were beautiful," said Maria Disney. "It was a beautiful little family."

Maria Disney said that when she got to the house Saturday, Jesse's body was still there. She kissed him before the coroner took his body away.

Jesse Disney had had a hip replaced as a child and was on disability, but he helped his father a great deal, working in the garden and helping him build guitars, Ray Disney said.

Ray Disney lived next door to the house that burned until he lost his house in a foreclosure and moved about a week ago. He said he had considered buying back his house, but isn't sure he wants to now.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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