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Cause of deadly blaze still unknown 2 months later

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Two children were killed in a November fire at this Nineveh home, and their mother died from the injuries she suffered trying to save them. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Two children were killed in a November fire at this Nineveh home, and their mother died from the injuries she suffered trying to save them. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

State investigators haven’t yet determined the cause of a fire that killed a Nineveh mother and two children more than two months ago, but when they do they will consider interviews with the 5-year-old survivor and findings from insurance company investigations.

On Nov. 22, fire burned the duplex where the Slusher-Abbott family lived and killed Hailey Slusher-Abbott, 22 months, and John Slusher-Abbott Jr., 5 months. Sirena Slusher-Abbott, 27, died three days later after suffering severe burns and smoke inhalation.

The surviving child, Alexanderia Slusher-Abbott, is in counseling. How many more times investigators talk to her depends on how the counseling goes and her father’s consent, Johnson County Coroner Craig Lutz said.

The investigation is challenging because Allie, who got out of the house without injuries, is the only survivor of the four people who were inside when the fire started. So many answers about the cause may be impossible to get because her mother died, he said. Her father, Chris Abbott, had returned from work the day of the fire to find his home engulfed in flames.

“It’s a fragile deal,” Lutz said.

Insurance companies have interviewed witnesses and looked at appliances and charring in the burned home.

The Indiana Fire Marshal, the county coroner’s office and Nineveh firefighters combed through debris at the charred remains of the house. But more than two months later, the fire marshal’s office, which took the lead in the investigation, hasn’t announced the cause of the fire. The fire marshal is awaiting some lab results and the conclusions from insurance and gas company investigators, Lutz said.

How to help

The Crossing church in Nineveh is collecting financial donations for the Slusher-Abbott family.

Donations can be given to the Abbott Family Fund at any Mutual Savings bank location.

Checks should be made payable to the Abbott Family Fund.

Donations can be deposited at bank branches or mailed to Abbott Family Fund, in care of Mutual Savings Bank, P.O. Box 94, Nineveh, IN 46164.

Investigators from at least two insurance companies, including one representing the Slusher-Abbott family, have been working to figure out the cause of the fire, he said. The duplex’s other tenant and the landlord also might have insurance companies looking for the cause of the fire, he said.

They have interviewed witnesses, such as neighbors who saw the house go up in flames, Lutz said. Allie likely will be interviewed again, depending on how well her counseling goes, he added.

Once all investigators have finished their work, they will compare what they’ve found and together decide what the evidence shows the cause of the fire was, Lutz said.

Important to share

Sharing information helps ensure all groups involved are unified in their opinion and allows the state and the private companies to be more thorough, he said. For example, Lutz said, the insurance companies may find evidence at the house that other investigators missed, and the state fire marshal’s office may have done more thorough witness interviews.

As part of the investigation, they are looking at whether any electrical wiring work at the duplex was done incorrectly and whether the gas and electric utility companies had made any recent visits to the house to make repairs. In fire investigations such as this one, Lutz said, investigators examine appliances, such as kitchen stoves and ceiling fans, to see if they could be a possible cause.

They also look at photographs and videos of the house while it was burning, studying the colors of the smoke and flames and how fast the building burned. Types of wood burn differently, and plastic can be like tossing gasoline on flames because it burns so quickly.

Even with several investigators, the cause of the fire might not be found because the blaze burned so intensely, Lutz said. Much of the house was incinerated, and the spot where the fire started and burned the longest may not have left much more than ashes behind, he said.

Sirena Slusher-Abbott had tried repeatedly to run into the burning apartment to get her babies out of the building but wasn’t able to reach them. Police officers and firefighters also tried to reach the babies without success.

Lutz said the investigation might take a few more months because winter weather and other fires around the state have taken the investigators’ time.

‘Waiting game’

The delay isn’t a concern to the family because they are glad to know the investigators are being careful not to rush to a conclusion, said Brent Dodson, Chris Abbott’s brother.

“What we’ve been told is that it’s kind of a waiting game,” he said.

Abbott and his daughter go to weekly counseling. Pastor Paul Taylor said Abbott has joined a men’s Bible study and talks with him several times a week. Taylor is pastor at The Crossing church in Nineveh, where the Slusher-Abbott family attends.

“Some people turn to drugs, some turn to alcohol, some turn to depression. The ones that want to do it right, they turn to God,” Taylor said. “He knows that what has happened will be used by God to help other people.”

Over the past two weeks, Taylor has noticed Abbott holding his head up instead of looking down and talking about normal daily topics, such as work, instead of bringing up the fire, Taylor said.

Abbott is learning to parent his daughter Allie without his wife, such as getting her ready for school as his wife used to do, Taylor said. Abbott’s sense of humor is coming back, and he’s started to wear a sock hat with dreadlocks and beads on it to be silly, Taylor said.

“He’s not stuck where he can’t get past it. He’s learning that God has a big plan for him,” Taylor said. “With that comes a lot of peace.”

The family hosted a birthday party for Allie at the church Sunday. Taylor said she was running around and laughing with her friends, wearing a brightly colored dress.

“You can see she’s starting to maybe let go of what happened and starting to live also,” he said.

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