Fire that killed 6 children blamed on their mother Insurance mentioned in probe, police say

July 15, 1992|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writer Staff writer Alisa Samuels contributed to this article.

The East Baltimore rowhouse arson fire that killed six children was blamed on their mother yesterday by city homicide detectives.

Tonya Renee Lucas, 28, was formally charged last night with six counts of murder, one count of arson and one count of child abuse in connection with the fire last week in the 2400 block of E. Eager St.

Only one of the suspect's seven children -- 7-year-old William Cook Jr. -- survived. He has since been placed in the custody of the city Department of Social Services.

The detectives said information obtained in the investigation pointed to Ms. Lucas as a suspect, but they would not elaborate. However, the investigators acknowledged being told -- by a source they would not identify -- that the mother set the fire in hopes of collecting insurance money.

Detectives would not confirm last night whether that was the motive that may have prompted the deadly arson.

Ms. Lucas was taken into custody yesterday afternoon at the home of a friend in the 2800 block of E. Federal St., and was questioned by detectives at police headquarters before she was formally charged about 8 p.m.

The fire was ignited shortly before 8:30 a.m. July 7 after someone poured a flammable liquid on the first floor of the two-story rowhouse, which was home to 13 people.

Heat and thick smoke trapped the six children on the upper floor, and four of them -- Damien Cook, 2 months; Gregory Cook, 1; Takia Cook, 2; and Russell Williams, 5 -- were dead at the scene from smoke inhalation

The other victims, 12-year-old Antoine Lucas and 3-year-old Deon Cook, died later at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Authorities said an autopsy on 1-year-old Gregory turned up signs of chronic abuse and neglect, and that the boy had been severely underfed -- some of the "twists and turns" in the investigation, prompting the detectives to examine whether family problems had been a factor in the arson.

The child abuse charge against Ms. Lucas was the result of that autopsy finding, police said last night.

Services for the six victims were held yesterday at Zion Baptist Church on North Caroline Street. They were buried at Arbutus Memorial Park.

The mother was taken in handcuffs to the Northeastern District lockup, where she was awaiting a bail hearing.

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