MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Mobile police are investigating the deaths of two Happy Hill residents as a homicide, Mobile Public Safety Director James Barber said Thursday.
The deaths occurred Wednesday night after what neighbors described as an explosion that sparked a fire that spread to the neighboring home on Dr. Thomas Avenue. Relatives identified the couple as Tony and Leila Lewis.
All that is left of the Lewis home is some debris and aluminum cans.
“I heard a couple gunshots,” said Fredrick Olison, a cousin of Leila Lewis who lives down the street. “And I heard a big boom. And when we heard the boom, we tried to go down there and up, open the door. I mean, get to the door.”
But Olison said the house was fully engulfed by that time.
“They were good people, man. They didn’t deserve it,” he said.
Olison said his cousin and her husband were just getting over COVID-19. Leila Lewis, he said, had recently gotten out of the hospital.
The Lewises are the grandparents of rapper HoneyKomb Brazy.
Mobile police said it is too early to determine precisely what happened Wednesday night. But Michael Knight, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed certified explosives specialists and bomb techs are investigating.
“We are working with our counterparts to create a timeline of events prior to as well as after the initial incident,” he told FOX10 News in a text message.
Pearlie Olison Howard and her son, Jesse Howard, said they were home at the house next door when the gunfire started. Several neighbors recalled hearing at least 10 shots, but Jesse Howard said he believes it was 10 times as many as that. He said it sounded like fire from a semi-automatic weapon.
“We heard gunshots, so we had to hit the floor,” he said. “We waited in the house for like 10 minutes. Then after that, we came out from the house and saw that both houses were burning, so we called the fire department.”
Howard added: “It was terrifying. I mean, bullets were flying across our heads.”
The Howards said they were in their bedrooms and did not initially realize their house was on fire.
“It started from our kitchen” Jesse Howard said. “And then it spread. And we didn’t know that until we walked out the door, though.”
Pearlie Howard said she has lived at the house for decades and has spent her entire life in the neighborhood.
“It’s unlivable, on something somebody else did,” she said. “You know? And that’s just not right.”
Although neither Pearlie nor Jesse Howard was hurt, Pearlie said her other son suffered a stroke Thursday morning and is in the hospital.
“You talk about someone praying and calling on the Lord,” she said.
The American Red Cross on Thursday registered the Howards for assistance. Volunteer Tonia Jones said the organization will give them clothing and help find them a temporary place to stay. She said shew knew Leila Lewis.
“It’s very, very shocking,” she said. “It’s very sad. … I’m so sorry. But we’re here to help with them and the other family, too.”
Mario Yow, who lives around the corner from the fire, filmed the blaze Wednesday night and called 911.
“What we heard and felt first was like a big boom, like a sonic boom,” he said. “I jumped up and ran to the front door to see, like, what was going on. Because I know a lot of elderly neighbors around here.”
Gary Miller, who grew up in the neighborhood, said news of the Lewises’ death left him stunned.
“They’s lifelong friends of mine,” he said. “They’s wonderful people. Didn’t bother nobody. Well-liked in the community by all. … I’m blowed, man. It’s devastating to me.”
(FOX10 News anchor Byron Day contributed to this report).
Updated at 5:44 p.m. with additional comments and information from the American Red Cross.