Funerals set next week for Starkville fire victims

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Funerals will be held next week for the nine people killed in Monday’s apartment fire in south Starkville, and a community fundraising effort is under way to help with funeral costs.
Volunteers with buckets collected money outside Walmart and Piggly Wiggly stores in Starkville on Thursday. Other contributors too money to collection points at churches, the Oktibbeha County Red Cross, Starkville City Hall and the Starkville Daily News office.
Carol Moss Read, chair of the board for the Oktibbeha County Red Cross, said the goal is to raise $30,000 to completely cover funeral expenses.
More than $15,000 had been raised through Wednesday, and Read believed several thousand dollars had been collected Thursday.
The collection will continue through the weekend.
Still unknown is what caused the blaze that started shortly after 4:30 Monday morning at the Academy Crossing apartment complex at 1200 Louisville St.
It killed India Williams, 25, and her three children; Castella “Maria” Bell, 18, and her three children and Lakesha Gillespie, 20.
Williams and Gillespie were roommates in apartment E7, and Bell was visiting.
The funerals will be on consecutive days at the beginning of next week.
Services will be Monday at 1 p.m. at Springhill Missionary Baptist Church for Bell and her children: Tanayia Bell, 4, Jayvion Bell, 3, and Samiya Bell, 6 months.
Gillespie’s funeral will be Tuesday at 1 at Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church.
The funeral for Williams and her three children – Jacorian Vasser, 6, Richard Vasser, 5, and Kamarion Williams, 2 – will be Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the Sportsplex .
Visitation for all three families is at West Memorial Funeral Home, which is handling all of the arrangements. An online guest book is available at
The fire also displaced two families who lived in building E and whose units were damaged by smoke or water. The Red Cross helped those families find temporary lodging in hotels, and the Salvation Army is collecting donations to help those survivors.
Partly because of the accident, Starkville Fire Chief Rodger Mann said Thursday that the fire department has given away more than 100 smoke detectors to residents over the last several days.
The department already had been providing the detectors, but the fire has raised awareness of the need.
Pieces of a fire detector were found in the apartment where Williams and Gillespie lived. But Mann said that not enough pieces had been found to determine whether the detector was working.
A private company had inspected all of the apartments in the complex in September to make sure that those detectors functioned.
Investigators are focusing on an 8-by-8-foot area of the living room that contained electrical items, electrical outlets and a fabric chair, among other household items.
They are going through each item and trying to determine which one ignited the blaze.
Mann said the apartment is significantly burned on the inside but that it isn’t an uncommon amount of damage.
“It is a lot worse on the inside than what you see on the outside,” Mann said. “It was a small apartment. A fire can cause significant damage pretty quickly.”
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or at

Funerals for Starkville fire victims:
– Monday: Castella “Maria” Bell and her children Tanayia Bell, Jayvion Bell and Samiya Bell; 1 p.m. at Springhill Missionary Baptist Church.
– Tuesday: Lakesha Gillespie; 1 p.m. at Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church.
– Wednesday: India Williams and her children Jacorian Vasser, Richard Vasser and Kamarion Williams; 11 a.m. at the Starkville Sportsplex.
To contribute money for funeral expenses, checks can be made out to the Oktibbeha County Red Cross with a note that the money is for the fire victims.

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