“Sorry” Note Found in Tragic S.I. Fire

Three-alarm blaze swept multi-family home

A badly charred note with the words "am sorry" was found Friday afternoon in the torched Staten Island apartment where a family of five was found dead, police said.

The note was stuck to a long melted butane stick lighter at the fire scene at 302 Nicholas Avenue, police said.

Other words, including “you,” “me,” “that,” “at,” and “I” and fragments of other words were also legible, police officials said, but stressed that "neither the context nor significance of note, nor its author was immediately known."

Document specialists from the NYPD Crime Scene Unit responded to the scene to properly preserve the note and prepare it for later analysis.

Police have been investigating the case on the theory that it was a murder-suicide committed by 14-year-old C.J. Jones, who  found dead in the Port Richmond apartment, with a razor found under his body.

His two sisters were found dead in the apartment Thursday with their throats slit. The boy's mother, Leisa Jones,  was also found dead in the apartment. A 2-year-old boy died later Thursday at a hospital.

An autopsy conducted on two-year-old Jermaine Sinclaire, Jr. determined the cause of death to be smoke inhalation -- it was ruled a homicide, officials said.

The 7-year-old and 10-year-old were determined to have died from "incision wounds on the neck," according to the city Medical  Examiner.  The cause of death for C.J. and his mother was still pending.

The father of the youngest victim, Jermaine Sinclaire Sr., who was in Baltimore at the time of the incident, came to New York last night and was interviewed by detectives, according to police officials. They said he is not a suspect in the case.

Leisa Jones' sister and mother, who came up from Washington, D.C., cried as they stood outside of the burned house yesterday before they went to the 120th Precinct to speak to police about the investigation.

The children's aunt,  Sharon Scott, said C.J. had a "history of being suspended" from school but that his mother tried to keep him in line and that he would never do such a thing "even if there was a note."

"I don't believe he wrote the note for the simple fact that that's not what he was about," said Scott. "I don't know my nephew as no slasher or to go slash his brother's throat."

The kids' grandmother, who is originally from Jamaica, said she begged officials to see the bodies of her loved ones, and noted that she'd "seen burned bodies before" in her native country.

"They tell me I can't see them," said Marcia Anderson. "I've seen burn victims before."

Meanwhile, neighbors were shocked and perplexed by the tragedy.

"It's real hard to process something like this,'' said friend and neighbor Shaquawna Meaders said, her eyes red from crying. "C.J. was the most loving and caring person in the world. 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 boy 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.

One education source added that C.J. was scheduled to be transferred to a "District 75" school -- which are for students with emotional and psychological issues. The source said that it was rare and unusual for a child to be sent to District 75 at such a late age.

According to law enforcement sources, the teen's body was found seated, almost in a suicidal "hara 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.

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, as well as 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.

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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