The close-knit Seneca East Local Schools district is grieving the deaths of a family of five who perished in an early Tuesday morning fire that leveled their rural home.
The victims were tentatively identified as Joseph D. Hamilton, age unavailable; his wife, Holly R. Hamilton, 31; her daughter, Olivia Bondy, 11; and the couple's two sons, Jaxon Hamilton, 8, and Linkin Hamilton, 6.
Brad Powers, principal of Seneca East Elementary, described the children as the kind of students a principal hopes to have in school: "well-behaved, very polite, great kids."
Olivia was a sixth grader; Jaxon, a second grader, and Linkin was in kindergarten. Olivia, whom he described as a smiley and "very bright child," attended Seneca East since kindergarten.
Her father and step-mother, Ryan R. and Billie Bondy, live in Norwalk. (NOTE: Olivia’s complete obituary appears can be read HERE.)
"What makes it so difficult is ... not only are they our family, our students, but I've worked with this family since Jaxon and Linkin were preschoolers at the Family Learning Center in Tiffin. So, it's been a pretty long connection [that] we've had," Powers said.
Counselors and members of the clergy will be at the school today to talk to students as well as parents who might want advice about how to talk to their children about death, he said.
Officials Tuesday combed through the blackened rubble of the house at 13843 Township Rd. 124 in Reed Township in eastern Seneca County and recovered the bodies one by one as the acrid smell of smoke hung in the air. The fifth victim was found just before 3 p.m., about 12 hours after the fire was reported by a truck driver traveling on Ohio 162. The Lucas County Coroner received the five bodies Tuesday and scheduled autopsies for this week.
Before nightfall Tuesday, crews had left the scene, which remained cordoned off by yellow tape.
(NOTE - To see pictures of the fire scene, click HERE.)
When crews arrived, the two-story, turn-of-the-century, wood-frame farmhouse was fully involved in what apparently was a fast-moving fire, said Dean Henry, a spokesman for Seneca County. Firefighters used tankers to truck in water, some drawn from a pond about 2 miles away, to battle the fire at the rural home, which is surrounded by fields and situated on a one-lane road.
"This is a very close community, and these children were known in the school system. And these firefighters -- many of them -- knew this family," Henry said.
Records from the county auditor's office indicate the house was purchased by Joseph D. Hamilton in 2004. The couple married in May, 2005. Hamilton worked at Hurst Technical Services, and Mrs. Hamilton was a homemaker, according to school records.
The Seneca Community Chaplain Corps helped notify extended family of the deaths, and its volunteers spent the day providing water and food to firefighters, Chaplain Tracy Elder of Tiffin said. Volunteers had been at the scene since 4 a.m., she said.
The children did not attend school Monday, Powers said, because they had gone out of town over the holiday weekend, and school officials had expected them to return to class Tuesday.
Powers wrote a letter Tuesday and sent it home with students informing parents of the house fire.
Ryan Brown, who lives down the road from the family's home, praised the school for its efforts to help students cope with the tragedy. Brown's son is in the same grade, but not the same class, as Jaxon.
"It sounds like they did a good job talking to them at school," Brown said, who planned to continue the conversation at home. "I think it's a good time to talk about fire escape plans and make sure all our smoke detectors are working."
Word of the devastating fire wound its way slowly through the area. Business owner Debbie French said the mood at her nearby tavern was somber as patrons sifted through information and news reports.
"It's just a shame," she said.
Investigators with the State Fire Marshal's Office responded to the scene and continue to investigate the deadly fire's origin and cause. Henry said since the structure collapsed, it's difficult to determine where inside the house the family members were.
Attempts to reach Olivia's father and other family members were unsuccessful.
Firefighters from Attica, Republic, Huron River Joint Fire District and Bellevue fire departments responded to the blaze.
By Vanessa Mccray - The Blade, Toledo (MCT) Staff writer Jennifer Feehan contributed to this story.
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