Despite hoarding, neighbors fondly remember fire victims

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A white cross and flowers are the only sign of hope left at a home on Sugar Lane in Sarasota County. Jennifer Beyer dropped them off in memory of Benjamin and Cynthia Langford, who were killed in a fire there yesterday.

"It has got me kind of chocked up. I wanted them to know that someone cared," said Beyer, who has lived on their street for 10 years. "I never even saw them."

Neighbors said the couple was disabled and their weight kept them from getting around.  They were unable to escape and both died in the fire.

The state fire marshal has determined the fire started on the rear lanai of the home, but due to the extensive damage they have not determined a cause.

Their adult son, Ian, did survive, but only after firefighters broke through a wall and lifted him out. He, too, is disabled by extreme weight.

Inside, investigators say they unearthed something else: Hoarding, to the extreme.

"I can see two elderly people who were disabled; it just got away from them. It got away from them," said Beyer.

Firefighters also found human waste, some of it stored in bottles -- a testament, perhaps, to the family's inability to get around.

"We shoveled as much contents, as much as possible," said Battalion Chief John Elwood.

Early this morning, the fire reignited, with much of the clutter still inside.  Firefighters couldn't go back inside for their own safety.

Neighbors weren't shocked by the mess found inside the home.  Many say, for years, they knew there was a problem, but they didn't know how bad it was.

"We all seen there was no garbage put out or anything. We thought maybe hard times. When we didn't see the son for a week or so, we would come over," said Liz Molbury.

Molbury and others say they offered help.

"Thanksgiving-time we would go over, Christmas-time; they weren't just very responsive. They wanted to stay by themselves. We respected them for that. If there was a problem they knew anybody would help," she said.

Now the shell of a home sits as a reminder of a tragedy that no one will soon forget.

"Even if they didn't talk, they were sweet people. They were very nice," said Molbury.

Ian Langord is at Tampa General Hospital.  He's listed in fair condition.

The state fire marshal investigation continues.