Murder-Suicide Suspected in Blaze that Killed Mom, Kids

Three-alarm blaze swept multi-family home; other tenants got out

By Tracie Strahan and Alice McQuillan
|  Friday, Jul 23, 2010  |  Updated 7:36 AM EDT
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Police say a troubled teenager killed his family in an alleged murder cover-up.

Police say a troubled teenager killed his family in an alleged murder cover-up.

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Neighbor: "The Place Was Just in Flames"

A woman who lives in the Staten Island building ravaged by a pre-dawn blaze says she thanks the officer who woke her up for helping save the lives of her and her children and calls the deaths of the victims a "tragedy."
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Shaquawna Meaders had spent "a nice night'' at her friend's apartment as the friend's skinny 14-year-old son made them laugh and his young siblings prepared for a trip to Coney Island.

Then on Thursday, Meaders learned that her friend had died, the 7- and 10-year-old girls' throats had been slit and police had begun to suspect the boy who had been so witty the night before had killed them before setting their home ablaze and cutting his own throat. The boy's 2-year-old brother died later at a hospital.

"It's real hard to process something like this,'' Meaders said, her eyes red from crying.

And like many who knew Leisa Jones and her family, Meaders said she was struggling to deal with what authorities were saying -- especially about the teenager, C.J. Jones.

"C.J. was the most loving and caring person in the world,'' said Meaders, who lives down the street. "I can't see him doing any kind of harm to them.''

Meaders, 25, also found it difficult to believe such a small boy could have overpowered his mother.

"His mother would have been able to fight him off,'' she said.

Nevertheless, police were investigating on the theory that it was a murder-suicide committed by a troubled teen with a history of setting fires.

Police spokesman Paul Browne said the boy recently had been kicked out of a public pool for setting a fire there and that neighbors described him lighting paper on fire in front his apartment building in recent days.

According to law enforcement sources, the teen's body was found seated, almost in a suicidal "hari kari" position with a razor under his body. His weapon was an old fashioned razor shaving blade. 

Also, the sources said the cause of death was unclear for the mother, who didn't have a slit throat, and who was found in a crawling position, as if she were trying to escape either the fire or her assailant. No suicide note was found.

"You never get used to it," Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano said of the untimely deaths.

The three-alarm blaze broke out just before 4:15 a.m. Thursday in a second-floor apartment where Lisa Jones lived with her children in the multi-family home on Nicholas Avenue. The raging fire rapidly spread to the attic and then engulfed the roof.

Neighbors said Jones attended a beauty school during the day as part of an effort to secure a better life for her family. Jones came from Trinidad; the children's father lived on the island of Jamaica.

"She came out here to try to make a better life for her kids,'' said Meaders, tears streaming down her face. "Everywhere she went, if they weren't in school, the kids were always with her."

Meaders identified the children as 2-year-old Jermaine, 7-year-old Melonie, 10-year-old Brittney and 14-year-old C.J.

Jones' downstairs neighbor, Criseena Lee, who escaped unharmed, also described Jones as a devoted mother.

"She was trying to better her life for her and her children,'' she said. Jones had lived in the building for about one year and "took care of her kids very well,'' Lee said.

"The kids were sweet, very innocent,'' she said. Lee's children, ages 6 and 10, played with Jones' kids, and they went to the pool together, she said.

Meaders described the last evening at her friend's apartment as "a nice night,'' with C.J. singing and making them all laugh.

Cassano says authorities initially thought the fire may have been suspicious due to the volume of the flames. There were no working smoke detectors in the home.

Cassano said multiple families lived in the home, but he wasn't sure how many people in total resided in the building. All the tenants in the other three apartments got out safely.

Nicholas Cotton, who lived in the other second-floor apartment with his girlfriend, Shannon Barbach, said they were awakened by banging. He went to the window and saw people outside yelling, "Fire!''

He didn't see anything until he opened his bathroom door and saw flames from Jones' apartment shooting through the shared bathroom wall.

Cotton's apartment had two exits, but Jones' had only one, he said.

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