Two die in suspicious early morning fire in Gary
By Lori Caldwell firstname.lastname@example.org | 648-3258 July 25, 2012 9:14AM
Ronald Rochelle, left and his fiance' Khrystyna McClinton near lived in the same apartment unit where an early-morning fire killed a mother and her 14 year-old daughter Wednesday July 25, 2012. The couple said they tried using fire extinguishers to help fight the blaze. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 27, 2012 11:07AM
GARY — A mother and one of her six children died in a suspicious fire early Wednesday morning in their Lakeshore Dunes apartment.
Bernice King, 33, and Angel Harris, 14, died as firefighters fought a blaze that began outside their apartment door on the top floor at 5805 Kennedy Terrace.
“It was a set fire,” Fire Chief Teresa Everett said later Wednesday.
Gary fire investigators, violent crime detectives and the Indiana State Fire Marshal are working together to determine who is responsible for the deaths of King and her daughter.
Most of King’s other children, five boys ranging in age from 5 to 20, were home when the fire broke out about 12:30 a.m.
Officials at the scene said it appeared an accelerant outside the victim’s front door was the origin of the fire, which quickly spread down the hallway and into other parts of the building.
Everett described it as a “moving fire” that moved through the ceilings. The entire building was evacuated and is uninhabitable due to fire, smoke, water and structure damage.
When the first fire truck arrived from Station 7, some residents trapped inside were hanging out their windows waiting to be rescued.
Several people climbed out windows and down ladders to escape the blaze. Four residents of the building and a firefighter required medical attention for non-life threatening injuries, Everett said.
The second engine that responded arrived from Glen Park, and some residents complained about the time it took for help to arrive.
Everett, who was on the scene all night, said she will have to pull radio dispatch records before she can comment on how much time elapsed before help arrived. She said another fire occurred shortly before the call at Lakeshore Dunes, keeping the department’s equipment busy in multiple locations.
Investigators said one of King’s sons may have been in a dispute with another young man, but police have not spoken to family members to learn if that dispute is linked to the fatal fire.
King and her family moved to the apartment from Lake Station, where she had been arrested after selling drugs to undercover officers.
She had been charged three separate times with drug offenses, including dealing cocaine and was serving a four-year probation that began when she pleaded guilty last year.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, speaking at Gary Police and Fire roll call, which took place at the site of the fire, said families living in the building were offered the use of a moving van and help moving into new units.
“This is a tremendous tragedy for the community and representative of grave problems in the community,” Freeman-Wilson said.
Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, and Gary City Councilwoman Kimberly Robinson also attended roll call.
The victim’s mother, Janice King, also was at the event and thanked the Gary fire and police departments for their efforts.
“You were outstanding,” she said. “We know who these guys are (that started the fire), and we cannot let these thugs run this city. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Janice King said her daughter’s body was found near Angel’s.
“My daughter died trying to save her kid,” King said. “She would not leave the house (without her daughter). She was an awesome mom.”
Deangela Edwards, Bernice King’s foster sister, said the family needs donations to help her sister’s surviving five children, and said the security in the building was lacking.
“The doors were unlocked,” she said, and they were supposed to be operated via an intercom system. “That could have made a difference in her life or death.”
Post-Tribune staff writer Maria Amante contributed to this report.
Anyone with information about the fire deaths can call the chief’s office at 881-5252 or Detective Cpl. James Nielsen at 881-4754.