The Pittsburgh area woke up Wednesday morning to the horrible news that a house fire took the lives of 4-year-old Chy’enne Manning; her mother, Shamira Staten, 21; and Sandra Carter Douglas, 58—a blaze that, according to Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones, spread so fast that “the people didn’t have time to call 911 themselves.”
A day later, that horrible news got even worse.
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
The suspect in a fatal house fire that killed two women and a 4-year-old girl in Homewood early Wednesday was seeking retaliation for a fist-fight outside a Penn Hills nightclub, police believe.
“Yep, yep, I did it. They shouldn’t [mess] with me,” 41-year-old Martell Smith of the North Side uttered repeatedly as he watched firefighters battle the blaze at 7634 Bennett St., a witness told police. The fire had started shortly after 2 a.m.
Mr. Smith was charged Thursday morning with multiple counts of homicide, arson, and endangerment. He is being held in the Allegheny County Jail.
Apparently, Martell Smith got into a fight that night with another man, Sandra Carter Douglas’ son, who also lived at the house but who wasn’t even there when, according to authorities, Smith doused the house with gasoline and set it on fire. The Post-Gazette reports:
The son—identified in court records as Witness 2—told police the fight with Mr. Smith began inside [a] bar then moved outside. Ultimately, the son drove away with a friend and was sitting in the friend’s vehicle talking when he got a phone call indicating his house was on fire.
Police Cmdr. Victor Joseph said Thursday that Mr. Smith and the son were acquaintances before the fight but that there is no indication of a prior dispute between them before the fight at the bar. He said he does not know what the bar fight was about.
The lengthy complaint describes accounts from five unnamed witnesses that point to Mr. Smith, known as “Praise,” as the person responsible for the fatal fire.
One witness told police “Praise” had threatened that “Something’s gonna happen” following the fight between “Praise” and Sandra Douglas’ son.
Another witness told police he/she had overheard Mr. Smith comment after the fire, “I heard Sandra was in there...She’s dead...Oh well. That’s life. They made me do it.”
Often, when crimes like these happen in the Pittsburgh area, I plug the names of the suspects in Facebook to see if we have any mutual friends, and also to see if there’s anything on their page that might give any sort of context for why they’d do such a terrible thing.
In Martell Smith’s case, I had another reason to look him up. According to some of the conversations on my timeline about this story, Smith had posted a Facebook Live video at the scene of the crime while the house was still burning. I haven’t been able to confirm that this rumor is true. Perhaps it’s just a rumor, or perhaps the video has already been taken down.
What I did find on Smith’s page, however, were several videos filled with bizarre rants about black women. Like this one, for instance, from Nov. 13, in which he claims (at the 4:45 mark) that “Black women’s mouth is probably the No. 1 cause of mental abuse in the world ... on the planet.” Later, at the 6:00 mark, he says (paraphrasing), “None of y’all want to talk about the things you do that literally breaks down your children, breaks down your family, breaks down your community and breaks down your race.”
Although these might seem irrelevant—the relatively harmless basement rants of a man venting about women—they matter the same way it would matter if a white person accused of a hate crime had several anti-black videos on their Facebook page.
Perhaps Smith didn’t set out to kill the two women and the girl he’s accused of killing, but he obviously didn’t care enough about them to give a shit about whether they died.
This is how toxic masculinity looks and sounds and acts and lives. This is how it puts us all in danger.