Neighbor charged with murder for starting fire in building that killed 3 sisters, man after dispute over cigarettes

BY SNEJANA FARBEROV FOR DAILYMAIL.COM

Arson suspect: Reginald Hester, 51,  was charged with murder in a Chicago apartment building fire that killed three children and a man in late August A Chicago man has been charged with murder for allegedly starting an apartment building fire that killed an infant, two other children and a middle-aged neighbor.

Police say in a statement that 51-year-old Reginald Hester was arrested on Tuesday on four counts of first-degree murder and two counts of arson.

Police said after the August 23 fire it appeared to have been deliberately set by someone after a domestic dispute over money owed for cigarettes.

The Chicago Tribune reports Hester was earlier questioned in the case and released.

Hester’s family has denied he had anything to do with the fire, which claimed the lives of three sisters, identified as Shaniyah Staples, 7, and Madison Watson, 4, and 3-month-old Melanie Watson.

The blaze also killed the girls’ neighbor, 56-year-old Kirk Johnson.

The Chicago Fire Department responded to reports of the fire in the 8100 block of South Essex Avenue in the South Chicago neighborhood at around 1.30am on August 23.

Innocents: The August 23 blaze claimed the lives of  three sisters (L to R): Shaniyah Staples, 7, and Madison Watson, 4, and 3-month-old Melanie Watson 

Fourth victim: The blaze also killed the girls' neighbor, 56-year-old Kirk Johnson

The fire broke out in the 8100 block of South Essex Avenue in the South Chicago neighborhood on the morning of August 23 

It took about 200 firefighters three hours to get the blaze under control after it had consumed the building’s interior and exterior stairwells.

One witness said he tried to get his own ladder to help people trapped on the third floor, but before he knew it, a man, later identified as 36-year-old Michael Watson, jumped from a window with his baby daughter in his arms in a desperate bid to save her from the flames.

Authorities later confirmed 3-month-old Melanie Watson was taken to Comer Children’s Hospital, and was pronounced dead.

An autopsy showed she died from injuries from a fall from height and smoke inhalation. Her father was hospitalized in critical condition, reported CBS Chicago.

Firefighters discovered the bodies of Shaniyah Staples and Madison Watson, and their next-door neighbor Kirk Johnson, hours later during a search of the building once it was safe to go inside.

Fierce flames: It took about 200 firefighters three hours to get the blaze under control after it had consumed the building's stairwells

Fiery revenge: Police said it appeared to have been deliberately set by someone after a domestic dispute over money owed for cigarettes

Mourners are seen consoling each other near the scene where an apartment building caught fire

All three were found on the third floor of the apartment complex. The young sisters were found in one apartment, but not together, and the 56-year-old man was found in an adjacent apartment.

Autopsies have revealed that Johnson and the two little girls succumbed to burns and smoke inhalation, according to an NBC Chicago report. All four deaths have been ruled homicides.

The girls’ aunt, Kasey Daniels, wrote in the description of a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for their final expenses that Melanie was born prematurely at six months and was ‘the strongest baby’ she has ever known.

‘She shocked us all when she pulled through and the family brought home a happy baby,’ the fundraiser page reads. ‘She is now home with the Lord.’

Autopsies have revealed that Shaniyah Staples and Madison Watson succumbed to burns and smoke inhalation   Three-month-old Melanie Watson died from injuries from a fall from height and smoke inhalation

Melanie’s older sister Madison had just celebrated her fourth birthday two weeks before her death in the fire.

Daniels described Shaniyah Staples, the girls’ half-sister from a different father, as ‘brighter than her years’ and ‘loyal.’

‘Heaven couldn’t wait. God sent for the three sisters to come home and be together, forever,’ the aunt wrote.

Police questioned Reginald Hester, who lives a block away from the apartment building, a day after the fatal fire but let him go without charges two days later.

He was taken into custody again shortly before noon on Tuesday, and police announced charges against him early Wednesday morning.

Hester was due back in court for a bond hearing this afternoon. The suspect reportedly has a lengthy criminal record.

Source: The DailyMail

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