After finishing their homework, the two fourth-graders mused awhile about their futures as professional women. Alonnie Fletcher? A lawyer, for sure. Her good friend Amari? Definitely a teacher. But even with their busy careers, the girls made a pledge: On lunch breaks, they'd make a point of being together.
That was Monday afternoon. On Tuesday morning, Alonnie found herself writing a farewell letter to her 9-year-old friend, who died in a wind-blown house fire in East Baltimore along with five other members of her immediate family.
"Dear Amari, I will miss u and god rest you on your soul!" began her note, written partly in yellow, blue and red ink. "I will pray for your family. You were a good friend."
The early-morning blaze claimed members of three generations of the Satterfield clan. A relative identified the victims as Elnor and Richard Satterfield; their granddaughter Tiara Gholston, 26, and her three children, Amari, 9; Darryon, 3; and Daelyn, whose first birthday was recently trumpeted to neighbors with a poster on the front porch of the family home.
Fire Department spokesman Kevin Cartwright said the fire was reported at 4:45 a.m. in the 2300 block of Homewood Avenue, and units arrived just before 5 a.m. Firefighters entered the rowhouse, but conditions deteriorated because of high wind, he said. So commanders ordered crews to exit and fight the fire from outside.
When firefighters were able to go back inside, they discovered the six bodies, Cartwright said.
The fire destroyed the Satterfields' two-story house and the end unit next door. Two other houses on the other side of the Satterfield residence were also damaged. The block, one of few in the area that before Tuesday was not marred by vacant or boarded-up homes, is in the Midway neighborhood, just east of Greenmount Avenue and south of 25th Street.
Investigators are working to determine the cause and source of the fire, Cartwright said. It was unclear Tuesday whether the house had working smoke alarms, he said.
The fire brings to 18 the number of fire deaths in the city this year, Cartwright said. Last year ended with 19.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake visited the burned homes and spoke with victims' relatives. "I don't think there are words to describe how devastating this is," she said. "There are six members of a family who aren't going to be here for the holidays."
Shirley Braxton, who lives next to the Satterfields, was in the bathroom Tuesday morning when she saw smoke. Her daughter opened the front door and shouted that their neighbors' home was on fire.
"I said, 'Get my grandson. Y'all just get out of the house,'" Braxton said. "The only thing I was thinking about was just getting out."
Braxton said she had known the elderly Satterfields for more than 20 years. She described them as "a very nice couple, a sweet couple."
At the scene, grieving relatives huddled under blankets in sub-freezing cold and consoled each other behind police tape as firefighters continued working.
Darryl Faulkner, 46, who was the father of the two youngest children but lived elsewhere, said he learned of the fire on television. He recognized the location but had no idea whether it involved his children's home.
"I didn't know, I didn't know," he said, shivering in a dark blue sweatshirt down the block from the destroyed house. "When I got here, everything was already done."
As he spelled each child's name for a reporter, Faulkner nearly broke down. At one point, he sat down on the frozen sidewalk, head in his hands.
Tiffany S. Domneys, whose best friend Renee is a daughter of the Satterfields, said the family had lived in the neighborhood since 1968. Property records list the couple as owners.
"Everybody grew up in that house. I grew up in that house," Domneys said.
She said the Satterfields were well-respected and attended Empowerment Temple.
The father, 75, who was long retired, "was a community person," she said. "He would drive people to where they wanted to go." Elnor Satterfield, whose name was also spelled Elnora in public records, was 69. They had three children; a fourth, Richard Jr., died.
Renee Satterfield said her niece, Tiara, would have turned 27 on Dec. 20. The youngest victim, Daelyn, turned 1 on Nov. 27. Amari, a fourth-grader at Cecil Elementary School, was a dancer at Coppin State University's dance school, she said.
Amari's teacher, Simone Lipscomb, said the girl was a member of Cecil Elementary's dance group and played in the school orchestra. She recalled Amari as bright, funny and mature — "just a joy to be around."
Their class was in the middle of its poetry unit, and Amari had written excellent work "that I'm going to hold onto forever," Lipscomb said.
Amari had enjoyed playing the role of chief financial officer during a class field trip to Biztown, a Junior Achievement program, the teacher said. "She made the comment that she enjoyed being an adult for the day," Lipscomb said.
The city school system sent a crisis team to Cecil Elementary, according to a spokeswoman. Amari's friend Alonnie said that a counselor encouraged the students, many of them bewildered and crying, to put their thoughts on paper.
That's when Alonnie wrote her multi-colored card. She signed it: "BFFL Best Friend for Life."
Alonnie, 10, spoke about her friend Tuesday afternoon with her grandmother, Alice Fletcher, by her side. "She was a nice girl. She was kind. She was funny. She was joyful," Alonnie said. "She used to be a good kid. She had good manners. She was respectful. I mean, she was good."
They met years ago when Alonnie visited her grandmother in the summertime.
When Alonnie moved in with her grandmother early last month, Amari introduced her to fellow classmates, coached her in violin technique, explained the importance of not writing in the margin and showed her the best way to walk home from school.
And they were united by a powerful bond: They were both Hannah Montana fans.
After the fire, Red Cross workers assisted family members and those displaced by the fire a couple of blocks away, at the parish house of St. Ann Catholic Church.
Sister Jeanne Barasha, pastoral administrator for the parish, said 40 to 45 family members were there until early afternoon. The Lanes, who lived in the end unit, gathered in the kitchen, while Satterfield kin assembled in the dining room.
The grandmother of the three youngest victims, Mary Satterfield, sought a measure of solace in the parlor, sitting at a table covered in a lace tablecloth and adorned with red and white flowers for Christmas. Her tears came in waves, Barasha said.
"She'd be OK, but then, as people arrived to console her, the realization of how much she lost built up in her again," she said. "Her whole family was gone."
Visitors included City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Councilman Carl Stokes, along with firefighters and grief counselors. Prayers were plentiful, said Barasha, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
Despite the crowd, there was no chaos, she said. "There was a peace, a quiet, a reverence, almost. I think the families felt that they were surrounded by care."
Late Tuesday afternoon on Homewood Avenue, the whine of circular saws and thump of power drills filled the air as crews from Paul Davis Restoration cut plywood sheets and fastened them to the gaping holes where there had been windows. Holes in the roofs were covered with tarps.
A brisk wind whipped yellow police tape tied to the same tree that by now held up a makeshift memorial. It consisted of a white teddy bear with a pink heart on its chest, a red bow and four balloons. "We miss you already," read one of the balloons.
Sun reporter Julie Scharper and staff researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.