Woman Finds Her Parents Dead in Harlem Apartment on Easter

NY Daily News - April 17, 2017

by ESHA RAY, LAURA DIMON, STEPHEN REX BROWN

A Harlem woman planning to attend Easter service with her elderly parents instead found them dead Sunday in their apartment from apparent carbon monoxide poisoning.

“We were supposed to go to church today,” the tearful daughter, Rita Crawford, 38, said after making the shocking discovery.

Crawford and her husband Garry McFadden became concerned Sunday morning when Doris Crawford, 71, and John Crawford, 80, didn’t answer the phone in their East Harlem home.

The couple rushed over to the apartment on First Ave. near 101st St. and opened the door with their key — and were met by an overwhelming odor of gas.

“The smell hit me in the face,” McFadden said.

He found his father-in-law lying face-down in bed in a pool of vomit, his hands stiff, McFadden said.

His mother-in-law was sitting in her TV chair, he said.

“I thought she was sleeping but she was not breathing, so I knew she was dead too,” he told the Daily News.

The Crawfords had been married for more than 46 years and were regulars at East Ward Baptist Church, the family said.

McFadden called 911 and first responders arrived just after 9 a.m., according to FDNY Dep. Chief James Coyne, who was at the scene.

“There were high levels of CO in the apartment,” he said. “The oven was on — no food in the oven, but the oven was on.”

He said there were no smoke or carbon monoxide detectors in the home. But there were brackets on the walls for both devices.

“A defective stove can cause carbon monoxide,” Coyne said, although he cautioned that the investigation was ongoing.

Firefighters ventilated the apartment. No neighbors were evacuated.

McFadden was at his in-laws home Saturday afternoon to make dinner, he said. “We were having a good time. I cooked dinner for them and all that — and this is what I come back to?” he said. “We left at 2:30 in the afternoon, they were all fine. Come back today and they’re all dead.”

His in-laws were the type to “give you the shirt off their back,” he said.

“My mother-in-law was a saint,” McFadden said.

But they were both “very good people,” he added.

A distraught Rita Crawford recalled her mother’s devotion to the church.

“I know my mother wouldn’t have been strong without my father and my father wouldn’t have been strong without my mother,” she said, choking up. “I know they’re at peace with the lord Jesus.”

East Ward Baptist Church Pastor Sean Gardner said he had informed the congregation about the tragedy.

“She was sitting in one of these seats right here. And her husband was right there, sitting right next to her last Sunday,” Gardner said.

“Now here it is a week later and they’re gone. We don’t know what tomorrow holds.”

Gardner noted that John Crawford sang in the men’s chorus.

“They were truly loving and caring people, involved in the community and in the church,” Gardner said. “They epitomized what marriage was about.”

The city medical examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine how they died.

Ghanniyya Green, a fellow churchgoer, said Doris Crawford baby sat her young son, calling her “a mother of the church.”

Doris regularly attended Christian education classes and “always wanted to do things,” Green said.

“It’s sad but they went together,” she said. “She loved her husband and he loved her.”

WITH THEODORE PARISIENNE