Toledo, Ohio Child Started Fire That Killed Seven Youngsters

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- A child playing with a candle, lighter or matches started an apartment fire that killed six siblings and a cousin, fire investigators announced Tuesday.

The fire started on a mattress in an upstairs bedroom where some of the children were playing Sunday afternoon, fire investigator Andre Tiggs said.

``It was one of the kids,'' he said. ``We knew it was a human act.''

The children, ages six months to 7 years, all died from smoke inhalation.

Six children were found in an upstairs bedroom while an infant was found in a crib. Some were hiding under their beds while others were found in closets.

``They might have been scared,'' fire Chief Michael Bell said. ``Or they might have known they did something wrong and were trying to hide.''

Tests were being conducted to pinpoint the item that caused the fire. Some evidence of the source has been collected, but it was not clear what the item was, Bell said.

Other tests ruled out any electrical items or appliances.

Police were still investigating whether Melinda Ragland, the mother of six of the children, was at home when the fire started.

She has told family members that she was standing just outside her open front door when she noticed smoke coming from upstairs and tried to run back and save them.

The smoke, though, was too much and she had to turn back and run to a neighbor's apartment for help, family members said.

Bell would not comment on the mother's whereabouts at the time.

Investigators have determined that a smoke detector on the second floor was working but that an alarm on the first floor had been tampered with and did not work.

Bell said that if the children had been trained on how to get out of a fire, they could have survived. Investigators have said that the fire was not extremely fast moving.

At least three people in the neighborhood tried to get upstairs to help but were unable to get to the youngsters.

The victims were five sisters - Tanija Sanders, 7 months; Talia Sanders, 1; Terri Sanders, 6; Brionna McCullough 2; and Teairia McCullough, 7; their brother, Brian McCullough, 5; and a girl cousin, Quanisha Kirk, 7, family members said.

Family and friends said the children loved singing, riding bicycles, going bowling or to the movies together.

Their funeral is Saturday.

At least two funeral homes in Toledo have offered to donate their services to the family and the city will give them cemetery plots for all of the children.