Baltimore homicide and arson detectives were still uncertain last night of what prompted someone to hurl a Molotov cocktail through the window of an East Baltimore row house early yesterday, turning the home into an inferno that killed two children.
Police have no suspects in the early morning blaze, which also left a man critically injured after he fell or jumped from a third-floor window of the Federal Street house.
"At this point we could say the motive is anything from drugs to domestic violence. It could have been someone who got the wrong house. We just don't know for sure," said Detective Richard C. Fahlteich, an investigator with the police arson unit.
Witnesses told investigators that two men pulled up to 2046 E. Federal St. in a blue or gray four-door Oldsmobile just before 1 a.m., lighted a gallon container of gasoline and threw it through a first-floor front window.
As flames erupted, the car sped away.
At the time, there were seven adults and four children inside the house. Two other adult residents had left moments earlier. Police said that one woman and her small child had been in the first-floor front room when the gas container exploded. The woman managed to grab the child and quickly extinguish flames on the child's clothes.
A smoke detector in the house did not activate because it contained no batteries, according to Capt. Patrick P. Flynn, a Fire Department spokesman. However, a greater problem arose when the row house occupants chose to fight the blaze themselves rather than immediately evacuating the house and calling the Fire Department.
"When people do that, they get killed," Detective Fahlteich said. "If they had called the Fire Department and gotten everybody out, my educated guess is that we would not have two people dead."
The bodies of both children -- Reva Shalita Moore, 5, and her 4-year-old brother, Anthony Jamar Moore -- were found in a third-floor front bedroom.
Detectives said relatives reportedly had ushered the two upstairs from the second floor as the fire grew. The children then apparently became confused in the thick smoke and went to the front of the house instead of the rear, where other occupants were jumping safely to the roof of a first-floor kitchen.
Leroy Bess Jr., 36, went to the same front room as the children and either jumped or fell through the window, police said. Mr. Bess was taken to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was in critical but stable condition last night with severe head injuries and first- and second-degree burns on his face, neck and hands, a spokeswoman said.
Garnette Moore, the 21-year-old mother of the two young victims, had gone to a nearby Chinese restaurant with her younger sister, Tammy V. Moore, 20, when the firebombing occurred.
"I wasn't gone more than 15 minutes," Tammy Moore said as tears streamed down her face. "They were beautiful children."
By the time the two women returned, Ms. Moore said, the entire three-story brick home was in flames and relatives were jumping from the rear windows.
"What can you expect when someone throws a gallon of gasoline in your house?" she asked, adding that she knew of no reason for anyone to target the house.
Miss Moore said her mother and other occupants -- some of whom had been asleep when the firebomb hit -- tried to reach as many children as they could before the heat and flames became unbearable.
"It was just too late to do anything," she said.
Captain Flynn said the two-alarm blaze spread quickly. The fire took more than an hour and a half to bring under control and left the row house a charred shell. Damage was estimated at $75,000, and minor damage was caused to adjoining homes.
The Red Cross was assisting in relocating those living at the Federal Street address, some of whom were taken in by relatives.
For several years now, the use of Molotov cocktails by drug traffickers to settle disputes has become commonplace, though investigators say they have no immediate evidence of any drug involvement in this case. Often, such attacks occur in the early morning hours when people are sleeping.
Last year, city fire officials said they investigated four fires started by Molotov cocktails thrown during drug disputes. Detective Tom Pavis of the police arson unit called it "a popular method."