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NEW UPDATE: Three people die in Harpster apartment fire

HARPSTER — The three victims who died in an apartment fire early Tuesday morning in Harpster in southern Wyandot County have been identified.

Wyandot County Coroner Dr. Joseph Sberna’s preliminary ruling said smoke inhalation caused the deaths of 20-year-old James L. Gatchell, 19-year-old Lauren A. Vinson and 18-year-old Zenan T. R. Wample.

Deadly fire
                                                                            PHOTO | KENTON TIMES

Flames shoot from the roof of the former Harpster General Store early this morning. Wyandot County Sheriff Mike Hetzel said three people between the ages of 18 and 20 died in one of the two apartments on the building’s second floor.

“Dr. Sberna ordered autopsies on the three fire victims,” Wyandot County Sheriff Mike Hetzel said. “The fire victims were transported to the Lucas County Coroner’s Office in Toledo.”

The mood was somber Tuesday night, when dozens of the victims’ friends and family members gathered for a vigil outside the former antique store at 7223 Wyandot St., where the victims died in a second-floor apartment.

Members of the Pitt Township Fire Department dressed in full uniform with their hats removed. The firefighters who battled the blaze that morning stood together behind community members, who held lit candles and consoled one another.

The victims lived in one of two apartments on the second floor of the building. Jasin C. Wample, 21, Zenan’s brother, who also lived in the apartment, was injured when he jumped from a second-floor window to escape the blaze. He was transported to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, where a hospital spokeswoman said he is in fair condition.

“Jasin sustained some injuries due to burns and possibly from the fall from the second-story window,” Hetzel said.

The four people who lived in the apartment all are Upper Sandusky High School graduates. USHS Principal Jim Clifford confirmed Zenan Wample and Vinson both graduated in 2012. Jasin Wample and Gatchell graduated in 2010.

“We have to prepare for students who are upset and I think some of our seniors and teachers are,” Clifford said. “We’ve seen some tears and some of the students have come in and talked to the guidance counselors about it.

... We’re available for students to come in and talk with guidance counselors. Local clergymen have also offered their services if need be. ...

You deal with it the best you can, but you just don’t know how people are going to grieve and how it’s going to affect the students.”

Ryan A. Wollett, 24, of McCutchenville, was a guest at the apartment when the fire started. He escaped the fire and called 9-1-1.

Jessica Messmer, 32, and her three children, ages 11, 9 and 3, lived in the other apartment. Messmer’s 11-year-old heard a smoke alarm and woke up his mother and siblings.

Hetzel said no one has been able to determine whether the apartment where the victims died had a working smoke detector.

According to information from the sheriff’s office, Messmer’s mother, Karen Anderson, owns the building.

American Red Cross of Wyandot County is assisting the family with food, clothing and seasonal items.

Harpster Councilwoman Darlene Schaadt said village officials have set up a Harpster-Old General Store Relief Fund at Commercial Saving Bank’s Harpster branch to assist the victims.

The public is invited to attend a community service of hope and healing at 7 p.m. Friday at Harpster United Methodist Church, 17508 Cherokee St.

An investigation into the cause of the fire that started just before 3 a.m. Tuesday continues with the Wyandot County Sheriff’s Office, State Fire Marshal office and Pitt Township Fire Department.

“The initial cause of the fire is undetermined, but does not appear to be suspicious,” Hetzel said.

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