The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 11, 2013

Responders felt "helpless"

Classmates may decorate locker of teen fire victim

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— SHAMOKIN — City residents continue to mourn the loss of a seventh-grade girl who died when her South Rock Street house caught fire Tuesday morning.

Balloons, flowers and a small bear mark the 5 S. Rock St. home where police say Melissa “Missy” Pangburn, 13, died in her third-floor bedroom from carbon monoxide poisoning. The fire quickly spread to 1 through 9 S. Rock St., which includes five units, all condemned Tuesday evening by the city codes office, according to signs placed on doors to the structures.

The cause of the blaze has not been determined, according to Shamokin police Chief Ed Griffiths.

“But it doesn’t look like it’s anything suspicious,” he said Wednesday. “It looks like it was nothing more than a tragic accident.”

The investigation at the homes continued Wednesday, Griffiths said.

Griffiths was visibly emotional talking about Melissa’s death, saying emergency responders felt “helpless.”

“You can’t even describe it,” he said. “It feels terrible.”

Melissa’s family is staying with relatives in the city, Griffiths said. Police could not confirm how many people were living at the homes at the time of the fire, though neighbors at the scene Tuesday said at least one of the homes — at 9 S. Rock St. — was uninhabited.

Melissa was a seventh-grade honors student at Shamokin Area Middle/High School, where she was a well-liked student who “always participated” in class, Principal Chris Venna said.

“She was a very pleasant girl, always smiling,” he said.

He said friends and teachers have been describing her as a “soft-spoken” girl who enjoyed coming in to school each day.

“Her teachers mentioned she was a pleasure to have in class,” he said.

Melissa’s Facebook page describes her as a young girl who loved her family, shoes, shopping, makeup and social media.

The school has grief counselors on hand to help students through the difficult time, Venna said, and many pupils were talking and reminiscing about Melissa and making plans to decorate her locker in her memory.

Venna said the middle school had a distinct “somber feeling” Wednesday when students arrived, but that the school was bonding together to help pupils cope.

“We’ll get through,” he said.

Grief counselors were also available for first responders affected by the tragedy, police said.

Shamokin fire officials did not return calls for comment Wednesday.