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Three Carolina fire victims were high school buddies

  • Story Highlights
  • Three fire victims were graduates of J.L. Mann High School in Greenville
  • "Heartbroken" house owner's daughter among six survivors hospitalized
  • One survivor jumped out of a third-story window into a canal to escape
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(CNN) -- Three of the college students killed in a house fire Sunday at a North Carolina beach house graduated from the same Greenville, South Carolina, high school, according to local reports.


One friend described Emily Yelton as "the definition of life."

Emily Yelton, Travis Cale and Justin Anderson attended J.L. Mann High School in Greenville, The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, reported.

Also killed in the Sunday morning fire in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, were Lauren Mahon, of Simpsonville, South Carolina; Cassidy Pendley, 18, of Charleston, South Carolina; William Rhea, 18, of Florence, South Carolina; and Allison Walden, 19, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, according to reports in The State.

Six others managed to escape. Video Watch student tell of escape »

Yelton and Cale, 20, were boyfriend and girlfriend, the paper said, though he attended the University of South Carolina and she went to Clemson University and was the only victim who did not attend South Carolina. Video Watch how Clemson campus mourns »

Speaking outside the burned house Sunday, Brayden Wynn told The State about Cale, his best friend.

"All the girls loved his curls," the paper quoted him as saying. "We would go on the beach and use all our pickup lines on the ladies."

Cale was a baseball player and Yelton a high school cheerleader, friends told The State.

Yelton's high school friend Shannon McDaniel described Yelton as "the definition of life," the paper reported. "She was nice to everyone and always happy."

McDaniel told The State that Yelton had brought her into a circle of friends that included Cale and Anderson when she moved to Greenville in 2004.

Anderson's brother, Stephen Anderson, told the Wilmington Star-News that Justin had gone to the beach house to do what loved, hang out with friends and watch college football. South Carolina had played the Univesity of Tennessee on TV Saturday night.

"I'm sure they were (watching the game)," the Star-News quoted Stephen Anderson as saying.

The owner of the beach house said Monday that his family's "lives were just changed forever" by the tragedy.

Chip Auman said his 18-year-old daughter survived the fire but was hospitalized and in stable condition because of complications from smoke inhalation.

"The thought of losing a child is unimaginable to me, and as a father my heart goes out to the families that lost a loved one in this situation," he said.

Auman said the situation was "hard to fathom."

"There's just no words to describe what we've been going through," he said, asking for prayers for survivors and the families of those who died. "We're numb, we're confused, we're heartbroken."

Six other South Carolina students were able to get out of the house in time. The six were treated and released from nearby Brunswick Community Hospital, but Auman's daughter was hospitalized again in Hartsville, South Carolina.

Authorities from the state Bureau of Investigation and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are leading the investigation into the cause of the fire.

Ocean Isle Beach Mayor Debbie Smith said the house was "engulfed" in flames when the fire department arrived on the scene, about five minutes after being notified. The flames shot into the sky and ultimately left little more than portions of the framing. Photo See the scenes of devastation »

Fire officials do not believe foul play was involved.

The six South Carolina students were affiliated with the Delta Delta Delta sorority and Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, said Dennis A. Pruitt, the vice president for student affairs for the school, although he stressed that the weekend was not an official Greek function.

Jay Laura, student president of the USC chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said the campus would pull together after the tragedy.

"If any place can come together to help in the healing process and the aftermath of an event like this, it is South Carolina," Laura said at a Monday afternoon press conference.

Terry Walden, father of Allison, told The Plain Dealer in Cleveland that the sorority kinship kept his daughter at South Carolina after she considered a transfer to the University of Kentucky to be with her boyfriend. She had moved into the sorority house for her sophomore year, he told the paper.

Mahon had recently become a Delta Delta Delta pledge, her high school friend, Amanda Palacio, told The State.

"She was one of those people who could meet people easily," The State quoted Palacio as saying. "She met a lot of girls she grew to love. It's sad she'll never get an opportunity to get to know them better."

Pendley followed her older sister in pledging Tri-Delt, The State reported.

"She always laughed. There was never a down time with her," friend Rodney Otadoy told The State of Pendley, who was a cheerleader, soccer player and homecoming queen. Video Watch how boyfriend says Pendley made him better »

Andrew Rhea, 19, escaped from the burning house but lost his brother William in the flames.

"Sometimes they got in arguments, but they were each other's best friends," their cousin Trey Floyd told The State.

Fire survivor Tripp Wylie, a 20-year-old South Carolina sophomore, said he jumped out of a third-story window into a canal to escape the flames and was unable to get back in to help his friends.

"I could see a buddy of mine off to the left who had gotten out. He was just yelling at me to jump and stuff," Wylie told CNN affiliate WYFF.


"The smoke was pouring out, couldn't really breathe, so I had to make a quick decision. [I] just kind of leaned out the window and luckily I jumped far enough to make it into the canal.

"Ocean Isle Beach is a popular resort destination along North Carolina's southern coast. The year-round population of the 7-mile-long island is about 425, but it swells to about 25,000 during the summer season, according to the town's Web site. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Fires

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