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‘Feisty’ 83-year-old church pianist, mother of 7 found dead in Wichita house fire

Bettie Clark-Johnson's family and friends pray in front of her north Wichita home on Friday morning seconds after learning that Wichita firefighters found a woman's body under a pile of debris Friday after battling a fire in Clark-Johnson's home.
Bettie Clark-Johnson's family and friends pray in front of her north Wichita home on Friday morning seconds after learning that Wichita firefighters found a woman's body under a pile of debris Friday after battling a fire in Clark-Johnson's home. The Wichita Eagle

An 83-year-old woman thought to be trapped in a house fire in north Wichita has been found dead, according to fire officials.

At around 8:30 a.m. Friday, the Wichita Fire Department responded to a house fire at 2331 N. Burns, near 21st and Arkansas. Flames billowed from the roof.

By about 9, the fire had been mostly contained. Wichita firefighters sent in search crews in three waves, Wichita Fire Department Battalion Chief John Turner said. On the third search, firefighters located a woman's body under debris at about 11 a.m. Family and friends at the scene identified the woman as Bettie Clark-Johnson, a church pianist and mother of seven.

A man from the neighborhood who knew Clark-Johnson said she's well-known in the community as a "feisty" lady and that she was physically fit for her age.

"She gets around better than me," Perry Robinson Sr. said while crews were still searching inside the house. "I’ve seen her walk through mud in stilettos."

A spirited widow, Clark-Johnson's independence made the search nerve-wracking for her family. Many of her children arrived on the scene and assisted firefighters by calling anyone who might know her whereabouts. Some thought she had a doctor's appointment. Others thought she could be at a funeral.

But Turner said the person who called in the fire — whom he did not name — had insisted Clark-Johnson was inside. Her truck was still in the driveway, he said.

“We look at all fires as if someone is trapped inside,” Turner said. “We conduct our searches very aggressively.”

Two firefighters received medical treatment for heat exposure during the search.

Clark-Johnson continued as an active member in her church — both as a vocalist and a pianist — after her husband George Johnson, the senior pastor at Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church, died in 2013.

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