Five Dead In South Carolina Fire; Homicide And Arson Suspected

Police suspect arson and homicide in a house fire in which five people died early Monday.

He said his children rode bikes with the Meza children but he didn't know the family. "You know, we were neighbors in the same subdivision," Wolfgang said. "But really, we were just acquaintances and we'd just wave. I didn't even know their last names."

He said the family moved into the house at Thanksgiving.

Neighbor Libby Hunter said the fire woke her up about 3 a.m. When she reached the end of her driveway, flames were rising from the roof and singeing trees.

"It just burned so fast, there was absolutely nothing the firefighters could do," said Hunter, whose grandson was in school last year with the family's youngest girl. She recalled watching the children practice somersaults in the yard Sunday afternoon.

"To stand out on the street and watch the house burn and then to find out those people were in there, it's something you'll never forget," Hunter said.

Several neighbors said the family's mother, who didn't speak much English, often worked in the yard, taking care of her flower beds. The yard was one of the best kept on the block, they said. The father was rarely home, two neighbors said.

He visited the home Sunday morning, Hunter said.

Stephanie Long, who has two children and lives directly across the street from the house, said that several weeks ago the father had parked in the middle of the street, between the two houses, staring into the Meza family's home.

"I closed my blinds because I was here alone and I wasn't sure when my husband would be home," Long said. "I was uneasy."

Zike, the landlord, said the family paid rent on time and went to church every Sunday. The family attended a Spanish-speaking Jehovah's Witnesses church in Rock Hill.

"They were just kind people," Zike said. "Very nice."

Mount Gallant Elementary School Principal Chris Beard said Denise Meza, who was expected to attend third grade this year, had not shown up for school since it began Thursday. A secretary had planned to call the child's parents Monday morning, he said.

Denise Meza, who had begun attending second grade at the school last December, was a pretty girl with long curly black hair, he said.

The children had attended school in Fort Mill previously. Riverview Elementary School Principal Annette Chinchilla declined to comment on the children, saying the family had signed papers last year asking that information not be given out.

Denise Pagoota taught English as second language to Denia in the Rock Hill schools. She had tried to call Denia last week to tell her she would not be working with her this year.

"She was a conscientious child and would tell me stories about her home in Nicaragua. She was so sweet," said Pagoota, who broke down in tears when the coroner's team removed one of the smaller bodies from the rear of the home. "She deserved so much better in this life... ."

Meza was scheduled to appear in court on the sexual molestation charges next Monday.