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Fatal House Fire Found to Be Arson

June 01, 2005|From Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Authorities determined a house fire that killed nine people May 21 was deliberately set, fire officials said Tuesday night.

City fire investigators and the state fire marshal concluded that the blaze was arson, said Lt. Clayton Cunningham, a spokesman for the Cleveland Fire Department.

Cunningham did not know what evidence the two agencies used to reach their finding, which reversed an initial determination that the fire was accidental and not suspicious.

Investigators have not identified a motive or suspect, Cunningham said.

The department planned to hold a news conference today, he said.

Earlier Tuesday, about 4,000 people gathered at the Cleveland Convention Center for a funeral service for eight victims.

Eight flower-covered coffins, five of them open and some decorated with stuffed animals, were lined end-to-end in front of a stage at the 10,000-seat Cleveland Convention Center.

Evelyn Martin, grandmother of six young victims and mother of Medeia Carter, 33, who died with four of her children, said: "I am grateful to God that she went with the babies and the babies went with her."

Most of those who died were members of an extended family of siblings and cousins. They all died of smoke inhalation. Three were burned so badly that DNA samples from family members were needed to confirm identifications.

Worship music competed with the sobs of relatives, friends, classmates and strangers from across the city. Attendants dressed in white handed out tissues, physically supported mourners and used cardboard fans to cool off those overcome during the two-hour service.

The Rev. Wesley Toles of Covenant Baptist Church had known many of the victims since birth. "The souls of all of them have already gone back to God," he said.

A funeral service for the ninth victim, a family friend, was held Saturday.

A critically burned woman's condition was upgraded last week to fair. Another man escaped unharmed.

Mayor Jane L. Campbell led mourners in lauding rescuers and said the tragedy had unified the city.

"This has been an extraordinary effort by this community," she said.

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