Family discovers human remains

Published 11:20 pm Monday, April 25, 2011

Summerfield Volunteer Fire Department chief Kevin Box remembers Tuesday, Jan. 25 very well. He remembers the house on Dallas County Road 39 when he and other members from his department arrived.

“It was totally involved when we got there,” Box said. “There was nothing we could do to stop it. It ended up nothing but coals.”

The fire that took place early that Tuesday morning took the life of 99-year-old Bertha Yeager, and her 78-year-old son, James Barlow, Jr.

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“It was totally destroyed,” Dallas County Coroner Alan Dailey said of the home.

Dailey said members of the department and other officials on the scene discovered the remains of what was believed to be Yeager and Barlow in an area of the home where their bedrooms were located.

But now, it is those remains and the process to identify the severely burned remains that is being called into question after events last Tuesday.

Relatives, working at the home to clear debris and find out what to do with possible rebuilding, came across a set of remains Tuesday, remains that are now believed to be Barlow.

“He was under a bunch of debris and ashes,” Marcus Kelley Sr. said, who was Barlow’s cousin. “It almost looked like he was just lying there. You could see the jaws, one shoulder, the spine and part of a leg.”

Kelley said he believes the remains are Barlow’s because of some of the dental work found in the jaws.

“I know in my heart it’s him,” Kelley said. “I just can’t for the life of me understand why he wasn’t found the night of the fire.”

But, for Kelley and the rest of the family, including Barlow’s son, Jeffery, who flew to Alabama from Detroit last week after the remains were found, the question is what were the remains given to the family soon after the January fire.

Yeager’s remains were mostly in tact and found in an area that was her bedroom. Yolanda Kelley, who served as the caretaker for Yeager and Barlow, said the remains were found in the bedroom, “exactly where I had left her the night before.”

Barlow’s remains, though, were not near his bedroom, but when discovered Tuesday, were discovered in the basement and completely across the house from his bedroom.

“He must have got up and tried to get out and then fell through the floor,” Yolanda speculates. “I just don’t know any other reason why he would have been over on that side of the house.”

The family now speculates investigators could have misidentified remains from the family’s dog, Jake, a German Shepherd-Pit Bull mix, which also died in the fire, for the remains of Barlow.

“We really don’t know what we were given,” Kelley said.

What authorities are for certain is that there was not a third person in the home and that it is likely the animal remains were misidentified.

According to an Associated Press report Monday Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman said one set of the remains recovered the day of the fire was that of a dog.

Kelley now wants to understand how and who could have made such a mistake.

The remains of what was believed to be Barlow were picked up by Millers Funeral Services and then transported to the State Forensics lab for identification. They were then released back to Millers and Dailey signed off on the death certificate.

Barlow’s remains were then cremated and then given to Jeffery Barlow.

“We just want to know how such a mistake could happen and what is going to be done about it,” Kelley said.

The remains discovered last Tuesday are still at the State Forensics lab in Montgomery as officials work to positively identify it as Barlow.

As for the family, they feel like they have to live through this tragedy all over again.

“We thought we were through with this. Jeffery thought he was through with this,” Kelley said, adding Jeffery, who is a teacher in Detroit, did not want to talk to the media. “We want the investigation re-opened.”

Officials said the State Fire Marshall’s office has continued to investigate the January fire and has yet to release their report.

But Kelley and his wife can smile at thinking what Barlow is probably thinking.

“He’s probably sitting back and asking, ‘What took you guys so long,’” Kelley said smiling.