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Woman burned has died

December 10, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS & BRIAN SHAPPELL

gregs@herald-mail.com
shappell@herald-mail.com

A Boonsboro High School instructional assistant who was burned in a North Avenue apartment fire last week in Hagerstown has died, a Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Police and fire officials refused to release information on the cause of the fire and the manner of the woman's death, saying details would be released following an autopsy today.

Brenda L. Hitt, 47, of 39 E. North Ave., suffered severe burns when her first-floor bedroom caught fire Nov. 30, firefighters said. Investigators from the Hagerstown Fire Department and Hagerstown City Police began a joint probe into the fire.

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Hagerstown City Police Lt. Rick Johnson said Tuesday that a city detective and a fire investigator would attend Hitt's autopsy today at the Chief Medical Examiner's Office in Baltimore. Police Chief Arthur Smith said authorities would release the cause and manner of Hitt's death following the medical examiner's ruling.

Smith said police investigators do not believe someone set the fire to harm Hitt.

"There's nothing that shows foul play was involved," Smith said.

Smith and Acting Hagerstown Fire Chief Rick Kipe would not discuss specific findings in the case, but said investigators spoke with several of Hitt's family members and neighbors throughout the week. Kipe said Hagerstown Fire Marshal Tom Brown was scheduled to speak with Hitt's family once more Tuesday.

Firefighters were called to Hitt's residence when fire swept through her apartment at about 10:35 a.m. Nov. 30. It took 20 minutes to knock down the flames; the building's interior was destroyed.

Hitt suffered the injuries less than three weeks after the murder of her mother, Shirley P. Finfrock. Finfrock was found dead Nov. 12 in her Smithsburg home. Washington County Sheriff's detectives said she was bludgeoned to death, but no charges have been filed in that case.

Some of Hitt's neighbors who were home at the time of the fire were treated at Washington County Hospital for smoke inhalation, and Dave Moyer was treated for slight burns he received while pulling Hitt out of her apartment.

A member of Hitt's family reached by phone Tuesday declined to comment.

She was a member of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Leitersburg, according to her obituary.

Boonsboro Principal Richard Akers, reached by phone Tuesday, said Hitt was a model employee at the school. She worked with learning-disabled students in grades nine through 12 to improve their study skills.

"She was very well-liked and respected, did a real nice job and she definitely enjoyed working with the kids," Akers said. "It takes a special person ... you know, the kind of patience, understanding, empathy, and she was able to provide that. Everyone feels bad for her and her family."

Crisis counselors will be at the school today to help faculty and students, Akers said.

Moyer described Hitt as one of the most "easygoing" people he knew.

"She always had a big ol' smile on her face and always had something nice to say," Moyer said. "She was really a sweet lady."

Moyer said Hitt never was one to complain about personal problems or the "noisy" television-watching habits of he and other neighbors. Moyer also fondly recalled Hitt giving him advice about talking to his 12-year-old daughter and being generous with the tomatoes she grew during the summer.

"She was always telling us, 'help yourself, help yourself.' That's the kind of person she was," Moyer said.

Hitt's former neighbor Barbara Miller said her thoughts and prayers were with the pain-stricken family.

"I feel sorry for the family," Miller said. "It's hard to express in words because of everything going on. We were hoping she'd have been able to pull through."

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