A neighbor later told police that Willingham intermittently cried, “My babies!” then fell silent, as if he had “blocked the fire out of his mind.” Diane Barbee, returning to the scene, could feel intense heat radiating off the house.A fireman sent word over his radio for rescue teams to “step on it.” More men showed up, uncoiling hoses and aiming water at the blaze.One fireman, who had an air tank strapped to his back and a mask covering his face, slipped through a window but was hit by water from a hose and had to retreat.She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. ” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Diane raced down the street to get help he found a stick and broke the children’s bedroom window. He broke another window; flames burst through it, too, and he retreated into the yard, kneeling in front of the house.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke.
Todd Willingham, looking on, appeared to grow more hysterical, and a police chaplain named George Monaghan led him to the back of a fire truck and tried to calm him down. R., Willingham, who was twenty-three years old and powerfully built, ran to see her, then suddenly headed toward the babies’ room. “We had to wrestle with him and then handcuff him, for his and our protection,” Monaghan later told police.
He then charged through the front door, into a swirl of smoke and fire.
Heading down the main corridor, he reached the kitchen, where he saw a refrigerator blocking the back door.
The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas.
Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture.