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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Rachel Sharp

Grieving mother demands investigation after firefighters accused of lying about blaze that killed two sons


A grieving mother is demanding answers after two white firefighters were accused of lying about their response to a house fire that killed her two Black sons.

Brothers Zyaire Mitchell, 12, and Lamar Mitchell, nine, died after faulty electrical wiring sparked a huge fire in their home in Flint, Michigan, on 28 May.

As the fire raged, two Flint firefighters Daniel Sniegocki and Michael Zlotek were responsible for carrying out a search for survivors on the second floor of the home.

The firefighters gave the all-clear that there was no one in the rooms.

Almost seven minutes later, a second team of firefighters then found the two boys – who had been sleeping – inside one of the rooms.

The brothers were rushed to hospital where they died days later.

As questions mounted over whether those crucial minutes could have made the difference between life and death, the two firefighters initially claimed in incident reports that they had properly swept the room.

But, weeks later, an internal investigation revealed this to be false.

Seven months on from their deaths, the boys’ mother Crystal Cooper is now pushing for an independent investigation as officials appear to have backpedaled in their handling of the matter.

At an emotional press conference on Friday, Ms Cooper spoke of the knowledge that those six minutes may have made the difference as she called for “justice” for her sons.

“Only if I could just give six minutes, my babies would still be here with me. I just want justice for them. They didn’t deserve this,” she said.

“Every day is a struggle knowing that I won’t see them anymore.”

Calls for a new probe are also coming from Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton who has asked for Michigan State Police to launch its own investigation into the matter.

Brothers Zyaire Mitchell, 12, and Lamar Mitchell, nine, died after a fire broke out in their home in Flint, Michigan (GoFundMe)

In July, when the findings of the internal probe were first released revealing the discrepancies in the firefighters’ stories, Flint Fire Department Chief Raymond Barton called for the pair to be fired, citing their “actions or lack of action possibly contributing to the loss of life of two victims”.

But, just weeks later, he appeared to walk back his stance with one of the firefighters allowed to remain with the department after simply being “disciplined”. The second resigned of his own accord.

Ms Cooper’s attorney Robert Kenner has branded the handling of the matter a “cover up” and claimed that racial bias may have played a part in the investigation.

“No parent should ever have to go through this. No parent. So, what we’re calling for, we’re calling for a thorough investigation, an earnest investigation, no cover-ups, no change in documents. We’re calling for the truth,” he said on Friday.

“I can’t say in good faith that these firemen intentionally failed at their responsibility because these boys were African Americans, I would never say that.

“I think the way it was handled subsequent to the boys being found was a disparity in how others have been treated.”

The attorney also claimed to CNN that the inaction is politically-driven, with Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley declining to terminate the firefighters because she doesn’t want to “upset” the fire union ahead of her reelection race.

The mayor’s office told the outlet there is “absolutely no truth to the allegation that there is a cover up”.

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