Investigators are looking for the cause of a fire that killed two children in a Nineveh home, while their mother continues to fight for her life.
Officials confirmed that John Slusher-Abbott Jr., 6 months, and Haley Slusher-Abbott, 18 months, died in the fire. Both children had been unaccounted for after the fire started Friday night. Investigators found the bodies of the two children after a search of the house, once the blaze was extinguished.
Autopsies showed the preliminary causes of death for the children were burns and smoke inhalation. That will be confirmed once pathology and toxicology reports are completed in several weeks, Johnson County Coroner Craig Lutz said.
Their mother, Sirena Slusher-Abbott, 27, was burned in the fire after trying to re-enter the second-floor duplex where the two children were trapped. She remained in critical condition Sunday evening at Wishard Memorial Hospital, hospital officials said.
Police had said she was fighting for her life after being burned from head to toe.
The Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office has finished reviewing what happened at the home, at 1044 E. County Road 775S, in Nineveh, but hasn’t completed the report. Details from the fire marshal’s report, including the suspected cause and location where the fire started, weren’t yet available Sunday.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office has been interviewing neighbors and residents who were home when the fire started, and there’s no sign that a crime occurred, Sheriff Doug Cox said.
“It certainly has helped us rule out anything criminal at this point,” Cox said. “I think this is going to be a terrible tragedy. Some kind of accident.”
Bargersville Fire Chief Jason Ramey considers it one of the worst fires he’s seen.
“This is the worst incident of my career. And I hope it stays that way,” he said.
Witnesses told the sheriff’s office that Slusher-Abbott was in the apartment with her children about five minutes before the fire broke out before 5 p.m. Friday, Cox said.
At some point, she sent her 5-year-old daughter outside to get help.
Slusher-Abbott tried to get back into the second-floor apartment of the duplex home where the family lived, but she couldn’t get beyond the flames. When police arrived, a deputy found her outside, burned from head to toe and wrapped in a blanket, saying her babies were still inside. Several police officers and firefighters also tried to get to the front, south-facing end of the home where the children were found, but couldn’t.
One sheriff’s deputy was able to get to a wooden deck on the duplex’s second story. A Trafalgar Police Department officer and two Nineveh Fire Department firefighters used a ladder to get to the deck, since the stairs were gone. But when the group tried to get inside a leaking gas line ignited, making entry impossible, a sheriff’s office report said.
The sheriff’s deputy was treated and released from Johnson Memorial Hospital for smoke inhalation, the report said.
The gas leak started below the gas meter’s shut-off valve. That created a flame similar to a blowtorch, but firefighters were able to contain the fire by keeping water on it, Ramey said. Crews from Vectren Corp. responded and shut the gas to the house off within about an hour, Ramey said.
Nineveh firefighters were among the first to arrive at the blaze and immediately began using the roughly 1,000 gallons of water in their truck to try and extinguish the flames.
As additional crews arrived, they were able to hook Nineveh’s equipment up to nearby hydrants, Ramey and Nineveh Fire Lt. Ian Lauer said. About 60 firefighters and 16 engines and trucks from eight departments came to fight the fire.
At no time did Nineveh firefighters run out of water, Ramey and Lauer said.
One water line in the building sprang a leak, adding weight to the second floor as firefighters were looking through debris, Ramey said.
The downstairs apartment tenant, Charlie Richards, was not home at the time of the fire, Richards said.
The two-story house is considered to be a total loss, Ramey said.