Cleveland Fire That Killed 9 Ruled Arson

CLEVELAND (AP) -- The grieving relatives of eight family members killed in a house fire learned shortly after a tear-filled funeral that the deadly blaze was no terrible accident after all, the mayor said Wednesday.

Test results confirmed the presence of accelerant in the May 21 fire that killed nine people, eight from the same family, during a sleepover party. City officials announced late Tuesday that the fire, initially described as accidental, was set.

''Yes, we found accelerant,'' Mayor Jane Campbell told WEWS-TV on Wednesday. ''I had to tell the family. I didn't want them to hear it from the media, I wanted them to hear it from me.''

There were no suspects, authorities said. They planned to give more details at news conference planned for later Wednesday.

As the public funeral service was held Tuesday, fire investigators were still awaiting results of an analysis on evidence from the fire scene, Campbell said. The fire chief learned the results after the memorial had ended, she said.

Most of those who died were members of the extended Carter family. They all died of smoke inhalation, and three were burned so badly that DNA samples from family members were needed to confirm identifications.

Police Chief Michael C. McGrath, who attended the two-hour service Tuesday at the Cleveland Convention Center, estimated the crowd at 4,000. The 67,000-student Cleveland school system, Ohio's biggest, was closed for the day so classmates and teachers could attend the service.

''I see a whole lot of support,'' said Edward Banks, 34, whose sons gave mourners copies of a song that they recorded in honor of the victims. ''It easily could have been our family. We had kids at our home last night.''

The Rev. R.A. Vernon of The Word Church, who presided over the service, compared it to a religious revival and predicted it would lead to renewed faith.

''I've never seen nothing so sad in my life,'' said Robert Ivery, 34, who grew up with Carter and knew her children. ''For so many homes and families and hearts to be touched in the way that they have with so many losses.''

Campbell led the mourners in applauding firefighters, EMS crew members and police officers who responded to the fire and said the tragedy had unified the city.

''This has been an extraordinary effort by this community,'' she said.

Some caskets were decorated with stuffed animals. One victim wore a baseball cap, his head nestled in the white lining of the casket. All eight caskets were adorned with flowers.

Women dressed from head to foot in white passed out tissues and helped prop up mourners slumped in grief in front of the eight caskets, five of them open.

''I love you all,'' said Evelyn Martin, mother of Medeia Carter, 33, who died in the fire with four of her six children. ''I am grateful to God that she went with the babies and the babies went with her.''

In addition to Carter, the fire killed Earnest Tate Jr., 13; Devonte Carter, 15; Maleeya Williams, 12; Fakih Jones, 7; Antwon Jackson Jr., 14; Shauntavia Mitchell, 12; and Moses Williams Jr., whose sleepover was to celebrate his 14th birthday. The dead also included Miles Cockfield, 13, who attended the party but was not related to the others.

The Rev. Wesley Toles of Covenant Baptist Church in suburban Wickliffe, who knew many of the victims since they were born, said he did not know how residents would react to learning the fire was started deliberately.

''I'm sure that will create a different kind of problem for the community,'' he said. ''I just don't know what to say. I'm just shocked, that's all.''

Ivery said it would take time to heal the pain of his grief. ''I'm really hurting right now. I'm pretty sure I'll pick up the pieces as the family will and we can all go on,'' he said.

One man escaped unharmed from the fire, which critically burned a woman whose condition was upgraded last week to fair. Fire officials said they found smoke detectors in the home but weren't sure if they were working.

At a viewing Monday, an estimated 3,500 people filed past the caskets.

Burial for all nine was arranged at Whitehaven Memorial Park in suburban Richmond Heights in plots donated by a retired police detective and the cemetery.

Toys, balloons and flowers were piled waist-high outside the burned home every day last week. The victims' family said the gifts would be given to underprivileged children in the neighborhood.

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