Family waits, mourns, as fire investigation continues

By Daniel Silliman


The hardest part is not knowing, even when you know.

Alfreda Watson has been missing since Feb. 1. The 40-year-old mother of five was last seen at 7451 Mockingbird Trail, late that night, and the next day the house was engulfed in fire, and burned down to a pile of debris.

And Alfreda Watson has not come home.

A body was found five days later, as insurance investigators were sifting through the remains of the house, but it was too badly burned to be identified. The family is waiting for the results of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's DNA test. They're sure it's Alfreda's body, but still, they're waiting.

"Until we hear something ...," said Kimberly McDowell, a cousin who is speaking for the family. "We know it's her, but we're just waiting and that's really hard. That's the hardest part, waiting for the true confirmation from the GBI. You're just in limbo."

Questions persist about the fire and about the death as the Clayton County Fire Department continues its investigation and post-incident review. The family continues to repeat the narrative of events and ask those questions. Initially, the family was angry and accused the fire department of a number of things, but after a meeting with the fire chief and other department officials, the questions are calmer now.

The house was reportedly vacant at the time of the fire, and all the utilities were shut off. The fire department doesn't yet know how the fire started. No one seems to know exactly why Watson went to the house, which had recently been vacated.

When firefighters arrived during the early morning hours of Feb. 2, the house was fully engulfed in flames and anyone inside couldn't have been rescued. The family still wonders why it took so long to find the body.

Capt. Laudry Merkison, fire department spokesman, said firefighters had reliable information that the house was vacant, but that "conditions at the time wouldn't have allowed us to go in there," even if they thought the house was occupied.

After the body was found, Fire Chief Alex Cohilas said the fire's destruction was so serious that it has taken investigators a long time to dig through the debris.

The family is trying to understand that, McDowell said. They have a re-occurring, waking nightmare, though. In that nightmare, Watson's body isn't found and it is hauled off and dumped in a landfill. They're looking for some sort of assurance that couldn't have happened.

Cohilas believes the next step, in answering questions, is finding out what caused the fire. In an e-mail to McDowell and the family, he wrote: "Once we determine the cause of the fire, and couple those facts with forensic evidence, we will be able to determine how the decedent passed from this life. These are important steps which must be undertaken in order to help bring closure to a grieving family."

For now, though, questions remain and the family is stuck waiting, the people who loved Watson are talking about how she lived her life, and what kind of person she was, McDowell said.

The daughter of Albert and Annie Maud Watson, Alfreda Watson would have been turning 41. She was the mother of five children: Fedario Walker, 18, Octavius Walker, 17, Christopher Watson, 10, Alexus Watson, 9, and Alyiah Watson, 9.

Two weeks before she went missing, Watson enrolled at the Everest Institute, and was pursuing a career in medical billing.

"She had had a really rough time, being a single parent," McDowell said, "and she was really trying to get her life back on track. She was a good person. If she had it, and you were in need, she would give you her last."