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‘She always wanted a boy.’ Wilmington family seeks help after tree kills mother, baby

Neighbor remembers NC victims killed by fallen tree during Hurricane Florence

A mother and infant in North Carolina are dead after a tree fell on their home - the first two fatalities of Hurricane Florence. Adam Sparks, a neighbor, says he heard the tree crashing down, but wasn't sure what had happened.
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A mother and infant in North Carolina are dead after a tree fell on their home - the first two fatalities of Hurricane Florence. Adam Sparks, a neighbor, says he heard the tree crashing down, but wasn't sure what had happened.

Lesha Murphy-Johnson was always smiling and optimistic, her family members said.

She loved her three daughters, they said, and was so excited when she had a son this year.

“She finally got her boy,” said her sister, Chinita Murphy, 53, of Wilmington. “She always wanted a boy.”

Murphy-Johnson and her 7-month-old son, Adam, died Friday morning after a tree fell on their home as Hurricane Florence moved slowly into North Carolina. They were the first casualties of the storm that has killed 36 people, including 26 in North Carolina.

“When she smiled … it would be like you ain’t got no choice but to smile back,” Chinita Murphy said.

A mother and infant in North Carolina are dead after a tree fell on their home - the first two fatalities of Hurricane Florence. Adam Sparks, a neighbor, says he heard the tree crashing down, but wasn't sure what had happened.

A large tree fell on the family’s one-story brick home on Mercer Avenue around 9:30 a.m. Friday, police said.

Murphy-Johnson’s husband, Adam Zachery Johnson, 48, remains hospitalized in fair condition, according to the Wilmington police.

Murphy-Johnson had four children, including Adam, according to the family’s GoFundMe page created Monday to help with the family’s expenses. Her other children were listed as Chyna, 21; Zahria, 18; and Epiphany, 13.

“This tragic incident not only took the lives of our mother and brother, but it also took our home,” Chyna Doughty wrote on the page. “Our mother was our provider, as well as our main source of transportation. Any money donated would help us find a new home, get transportation, cover funeral costs & medical bills, and help us replace any clothing and shoes lost.”

According to her LinkedIn and Facebook pages, Murphy-Johnson was the director of property management for the Wilmington Housing Authority for 18 years. She also was the founder and owner of Glasses and Shotz Private Bartending.

The 1994 graduate of New Hanover High School attended St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, according to her Facebook page. A photo posted to her page shows that she and Johnson married in May 2017.

Murphy-Johnson loved her children and would always share their accomplishments with her large family in Wilmington, said her niece Candice Brown. She was very close with her daughters.

“She would always text everyone when they did something great or their birthday was coming up,” said Brown, 36, of Wilmington.

Niece Shannon Murphy said Murphy-Johnson invited her and other family members over to her home for seafood a couple of days before the storm. They didn’t talk about the storm, said Murphy, 34, of Wilmington, but focused on enjoying each other and the food.

Everything seemed to be coming together for Murphy-Johnson, they said. She married Johnson in May 2017, and then had Adam.

“I still kind of don’t believe it,” Brown said. “You hear how stuff like that happens, but you never think it is someone you would know.”

Now, the family said, they are arranging a funeral as some relatives are working to recover from Florence and others are trying to get back into town from Atlanta, Charlotte and other places.

“We want to wait on them,” Chinita Murphy said, but “it is time to get her to rest.”

‘A big boom’

Johnson told the The Daily Beast the family didn’t feel like it was in danger because officials had stressed flooding and their home wasn’t in the mandatory evacuation zone.

“I heard a big boom, so I jumped up and I got hit in the head with the bottom half of my body still on the bed and I was trapped,” Johnson told The Daily Beast.

A tree had fallen through their home, and its massive trunk and debris had pinned Johnson’s legs.

Building material covered his wife and son, he told the news site, and he couldn’t see or hear them.

A neighbor interviewed after the tree fell said the darkness and wind as Hurricane Florence came ashore made it hard to see what was going on outside. The family did have some old trees behind their house, Adam Sparks said.

“It was only a matter of time for one of them to give, but you can’t predict that part,” he said.

RAL_ FLOLAND8NE091418CEL.JPG
Rescue workers, police and fire department members wait to remove the bodies of a mother and child who were killed by a falling tree as Hurricane Florence made landfall in Wilmington, N.C., on Friday Sept. 14, 2018. The father was transported to the hospital with serious injuries. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com

It took emergency crews a couple of hours to get Johnson out, according to The Daily Beast. At one point they lifted the tree, only to have it come crashing back down on Johnson’s legs, he told the new site.

Johnson said they told him at the hospital that his wife and his son had died.

“She always had a smile and a good word for you,” and was always willing to help people, he told The Daily Beast.

Johnson told The Daily Beast that Adam was a well-behaved baby who slept through the night.

“He hadn’t quite started crawling yet but he would stretch out as far as he would go to get to a telephone or a remote or a cup,” he said.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges
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