Destiny McDonald was a star basketball player on her team at Bache-Martin Elementary, a dynamo who could jump even higher than the boys. And she was fiercely protective of those she loved.
“If someone tried to say something slick out the side of their mouth, she’d say, ‘Don’t talk about my coach like that,’” said coach Andre Wright.
Destiny, 14, had just graduated from eighth grade at Bache-Martin last year.
She died early Wednesday morning in a rowhouse fire in Fairmount that claimed the lives of 11 others, including her 16-year-old brother, Quintien Tate-McDonald, and her mother, Rosalee McDonald.
McDonald’s mother Vanessa McDonald confirmed Thursday evening that she lost three daughters — Rosalee McDonald, 33; Virginia Thomas, 30; and Quinsha White, 18 — as well as nine of her grandchildren. Officials are still investigating the cause of the fire in the Philadelphia Housing Authority-owned rowhouse.
Destiny, who still called Wright “coach” even after she left Bache-Martin, had dreamed of an all-girls basketball team at the school, Wright said. It was a dream she never got to see materialize, but her coach says he plans to start one in her memory.
Quintien wasn’t a star athlete like his sister, but he still signed up for every extracurricular activity and intramural sport he could at Philadelphia Electrical and Technical High School, where he went after Bache-Martin.
Though he was small, he could still sink three-point shots, said Erin Dougerty, Philadelphia Electrical and Technical’s CEO.
Quintien was beloved for his warmth and friendliness, constantly popping into classrooms to greet teachers and saying hi to students even if they weren’t in his class.
“You usually were always smiling when you saw Quintien,” said his former seventh-grade teacher, Kristin Luebbert. “He had this absolute sweetness that always just emanated from him.”
At an age where many of his peers were most concerned with appearing cool to their friends, Quintien held doors for them. He once showed up to a teacher’s house in person when she lost a relative to gun violence, Dougherty said.
He was, Luebbert said, “a beautiful soul, a beautiful presence.”
Quintien was drawn to science and hands-on projects, Luebbert recalled. Sometimes she’d spot him zooming around on his bike in the neighborhood.
Jenée Chizick-Agüero went to the same church as Quintien and Destiny, Liberti Fairmount, which is associated with the Reformed Church in America. She kept coming back to Quintien’s smile — one that would light up the room, she said.
“He carried his joy with him,” Chizick-Agüero said.
Wright, Destiny’s coach, remembers Quintien always walking his sister to her basketball practices and volunteering to run the concession stand at games.
“He was always trying to find other things that he could do to show his worth,” Wright said.
Quintien and Destiny lived with their mother, aunt, younger siblings and cousins in a four-bedroom apartment that was often covered in toys, said Karyn Laury, Quintien’s grandmother. She said sisters McDonald, who was 33, and Thomas, who was 30, took good care of each other, their children, and each other’s children — Thomas’s four and McDonald’s six.
“I understand how people can look at a document and think she wasn’t a good mother because there were so many people living there. But she was a great mother,” Laury said about McDonald, as she struggled to speak through tears.
Margaret Wayne, grandmother of three of Thomas’s children, said the same about Thomas: She loved her kids, “she kept them beautiful.”
Thomas’s three girls — Shaniece, 10; Natasha, 7; and Janiyah, 4 — died in the fire. Her only son, a 5-year-old, survived. He turned 6 on Friday.
The little girls were sweet and respectful, Wayne said, and they loved school.
Wayne would pick up Thomas and the kids from Fairmount and take them to her South Philadelphia home for a visit. They’d have cookouts on the weekends and go on road trips around the region.
Shaniece was starting to come into her own.
Last school year was tough for her, learning virtually at home, crowded into a small space with her sisters. But Shaniece showed up regularly online, and Charlotte McCracken, the science teacher at Bache-Martin, was always glad to see the girl, whom she described as “quiet, super helpful.”
Shaniece was glad to be back in person at Bache-Martin this year, relishing experiments, anything hands-on. She dove right into an engineering challenge bringing classroom procedures to life, designing a miniature broom out of a cup and straws to demonstrate how students should handle spills.
McCracken, who taught Shaniece from the time she was in kindergarten, said she noticed a real change in her this year. “She was starting to become her own advocate, the way that fourth graders do,” said McCracken.
But one thing was consistent: Shaniece was a good big sister.
”She looked after her sister [Natasha] — I always remember them walking home together,” said McCracken.
Sean Wayne, father to Shaniece, Natasha, and the 5-year-old , is currently incarcerated. Though his sister called to break the news, Margaret Wayne said he still can’t believe it and keeps trying Thomas’s phone to see if she’ll pick up.
Wright was also still in shock, remembering the last time he saw Quintien.
It was two weeks ago and he and his business partner, Caleb Jones, had just finished brewing beer at Crime and Punishment Brewery when they ran into the teen on the street. When Quintien found out they were working on starting their own line of beer, he had “a million questions.” What does that mean? How does it make money? How could he do something like that when he was older?
Wright and Jones had no problem answering all his questions.
“You don’t come across many kids like Quintien,” said Wright, who has hardly slept since hearing about the fire. “I’m just hoping to wake up from this nightmare.”
Staff writers Rodrigo Torrejón, Ximena Conde, and Marina Affo, and news researcher Ryan Briggs contributed to this article.