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Officials: Cause of N.C. fire that killed 3 children is ‘undetermined’

Greensboro Deputy Fire Chief Dwayne Church said there were five points of origin and multiple scenarios for the cause


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By Kenwyn Caranna
News & Record

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Investigators have determined that a December fire that killed three young children had multiple points of origin, but they are unable to pinpoint the cause.

Deputy Fire Chief Dwayne Church said that while the fire department has closed its investigation, it could be reopened “if other evidence comes up.”

“I think there were multiple scenarios that it could have been and we couldn’t nail it down to just one,” Church said, “and so that is the reason for the undetermined cause.”

Antonio Little Jr., 4, and his 1-year-old twin brothers, Aerious and A’nyis, were alone inside the house at 2518 Grimsley St. when the fire started on the morning of Dec. 12, authorities said.

Preliminary findings from autopsies on the children indicate that they died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The presence of cocaine also was detected in the body of Antonio Little Jr.

Their mother, 29-year-old Brandi Sturdivant, is in the Guilford County jail on a number of charges including three counts of felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury.

Sturdivant is accused of leaving the children alone in the single-story house when the fire occurred.

A criminal investigation into the fire is still ongoing, according to a Greensboro police spokeswoman.

According to a search warrant related to the case, a canine trained to detect ignitable liquids at fire scenes alerted its handler at five points inside the home.

Tests conducted by the state crime lab on those five materials revealed the presence of gasoline on one of the samples, according to the warrant.

Investigators seized a gasoline can, lighter, stove and two phones from the scene.

Essie Moffitt, the paternal grandmother of Sturdivant’s remaining three children, was reassured by the fire department’s investigation.

“I feel relieved because deep down in my heart, the Brandi that I know wouldn’t have done this on purpose,” Moffitt said. “I think it was an accident.”

Sturdivant’s six children had two different fathers and Moffitt is not the grandmother of the children who died.

Moffitt said she’s taking care of the older children — ages 8, 9 and 10 — and that they are receiving counseling.

“They’re doing good,” said Moffitt, adding that her son visits the children frequently. “We do age-appropriate stuff for them ... so they’ll know what childhood is about.

“I just try to maintain a normal for them. I try to shield them from what’s going on in the news right now.”

The tragic fire brought unwanted attention to the Guilford County Department of Social Services.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recently ordered the agency to take corrective action after a review found deficiencies and state policy violations. Among other things, the state determined that DSS did not properly handle an open case involving Sturdivant — who had nine complaints filed with its Child Protective Services division since 2016.

A November 2022 complaint, which alleged Sturdivant left the children unsupervised, was still under investigation when fire swept through the home in December, according to court documents.

Another complaint that was closed by DSS involved a September incident where one of the twins was found with fresh and dried feces on his body and matted in his hair. The boy had a swollen and injured penis caused by severe diaper rash, according to the arrest warrant.

Court documents show that Child Protective Services opened an investigation and created a “temporary safety plan” in which all of the children were removed from the home and placed with a relative. However, the agency returned the children to Sturdivant just eight days later.

The county DSS has since submitted a “corrective action plan” to the state, which was still under review Friday afternoon, a state spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, Moffitt said she’s doing her best to ensure her grandchildren are housed, fed and looked after.

“I’m just here to pick up the pieces wherever they fall. ... I’m just doing what a grandmama does,” she said. “That’s all I know to do.”

As for Sturdivant, “I know she loved her children. She may have had struggles, but who don’t. We all make mistakes, but I just hate that it had to get this far, for babies to lose their lives.”

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