Baltimore police today were trying to figure out why someone threw a firebomb into a three-story brick rowhouse in East Baltimore. The ensuing fire killed two children and injured a 38-year-old man.
Nine people were in the house in the 2000 block of Federal St. at the time, a fire investigator said.
Capt. Robert Hatoff, the investigator, said that shortly before 1 a.m. someone threw a Molotov cocktail through the large front window of 2046 Federal St.
The deaths of Shanita Moore, 5, and her brother, Anthony Moore, 4, were the first fire fatalities in the city this year, Hatoff said. He added that the house did not have a working smoke alarm.
Reported at 12:53 a.m., the fire quickly raced through the house and went through the roof. Flames could be seen coming out of nearly all of the windows.
A second alarm was sounded at 1:06 a.m., bringing a total of more than 20 pieces of firefighting equipment to the scene. The fire was declared under control shortly after 2:30 a.m.
Neighbors today said they had no idea why someone would throw a firebomb in the house. Some declined to discuss a possible motive.
"Sounds like someone has a disturbed mind," said the Rev. James Winslow, pastor of the nearby Solid Rock Disciple Church of Christ. He and others from the church were coming to the aid of the burned-out family and people who lived in adjacent, damaged homes.
"Whatever they need, we want to let them know we're there for them," Winslow said.
"You gotta be sick," responded Melvin Biles, when asked why his next-door neighbor's house would be firebombed.
Biles, 54, a produce manager at a nearby Farm Fresh supermarket, said he was awakened by yelling next door and ran into the street to find his neighbor's house ablaze.
"Around here, you don't get into too much stuff," he said, asked about a motive for the firebombing.
About five years ago, Biles said, he moved from a house several blocks away because a neighbor's house was firebombed.
Walter Porter, 66, a lobby attendant at W.R. Grace & Co., owns the house in which Biles lived. He estimated that his house had nearly $20,000 in damage. His roof had a large hole in it, windows were smashed and firefighters punched large holes in the ceilings of rooms while trying to make sure the blaze was out next door.
A 5-foot-high pile of charred furniture, kitchen pots and other belongings sat in front of the burned-out house. Occupants of the home were not available for comment.
Capt. Martin Beauchamp, duty officer of the Police Department, said at least three Eastern District police officers tried to enter the front of the burning house before firefighters arrived, but they were driven back by flames.
He said the front and back of the house were fully engulfed in flames when the officers tried to get in.
After going from floor to floor and battling dense smoke and flames, firefighters entered the third-floor front bedroom and found the two dead children.
The body of Shanita Moore was found on the floor near a hallway. The body of her brother, Anthony, was found on the floor near a bed.
Both children were dressed in pajamas and were pronounced dead at the scene from smoke inhalation or extensive burns, Hatoff said.
Leroy T. Bess, of the 3000 block of Rayner Ave., who jumped from the third-floor front window to escape the flames, was taken by ambulance to the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore. He was listed in critical but stable condition today with head, leg, shoulder and back injuries.
Bess was asleep in a second-floor bedroom when the first-floor front living room suddenly burst into flames shortly before 1 a.m., Hatoff said.
Racing to the third floor to rescue Shanita and Anthony, Bess was unable to reach the children and was forced to jump from the third-floor front window onto the pavement.
The injured man was found lying on the sidewalk by police officers and the first of many firefighters responding to the fire.
As flames consumed the interior of the red-brick dwelling, six other occupants, including the children's grandmother, Betty Moore, 43, escaped out the front and rear doors.
Betty Moore's two daughters, Garnette, 21, and Tammy, 20, were on their way home from getting food at a nearby carry-out when the fire broke out.
Garnette Moore, police said, was identified as the mother of the dead children.
Most of the survivors found shelter with friends in the neighborhood and no other injuries were reported.
More than two hours after the fire broke out, the bodies of the children were removed from their burned-out bedroom.
Because the stairway between the second and third floors was destroyed, an aerial tower was used to remove the bodies.
With a firefighter manning the controls and two medical examiner technicians aboard, the aerial tower was moved gently toward the upper windows.
Standing inside the room were firefighters who had already placed the bodies in a single red body bag.
When the aerial tower reached the outside of the third-floor window, the sad cargo was placed inside the aerial tower bucket and gently lowered to the street next to a medical examiner's vehicle.
As a crowd of onlookers watched silently and before the bodies were placed inside the vehicle, the Rev. Robert Grumbine, a Fire Department chaplain, gave the children the Last Rites.
"That's the toughest part of my job," Grumbine said.