May 06–The home where a 17-month-old Joliet Township girl was found dead under a couch late last month burned to the ground early Saturday, officials said.
East Joliet Fire Protection District firefighters responded shortly after 6 a.m. to the home at 309 Louis Road in Joliet Township to the find the structure engulfed in flames. Authorities had previously described conditions inside the home as “deplorable” and “uninhabitable.”
As of 9:40 a.m., authorities had left and the scene was unsecured, with children playing nearby. The flattened remains of the home were still smoldering.
When they arrived, firefighters observed a fire in the attic and in a rear bedroom. Because of safety concerns, including a backdraft, firefighters pulled back from the home and let it burn, fire Chief Robert Scholtes said.
Last month, authorities discovered the body of 17-month-old Semaj Crosby under a couch in the home. The girl’s body was discovered about 30 hours after she was first reported missing by her mother, Sheri Gordon. The young girl was laid to rest Friday.
Neil Patel, an attorney representing Gordon, told the Tribune that his firm, Chuck Bretz and Associates, joins the family and community in mourning the toddler.
“It is our understanding that fire personnel made a tactical decision to allow the fire to continue when the safety of first responders was compromised due to further efforts to fight the blaze. We support any effort that ensures the safety of anyone involved in these tragic circumstances,” Patel wrote.
“Sheri Gordon and our firm remain committed to working with law enforcement and the Fire Department in any investigation into this matter.”
He further requested that the public “refrain from speculating in this matter and allow the family to grieve in peace.”
Gordon and family members with whom she was staying declined to comment directly when reached Saturday morning.
“It just hurts my heart,” said neighbor David Stocking. “(Semaj) was just laid down at peace, and someone wants to burn the house where her spirit was last.”
He said his sister woke him up and he saw flames coming from the windows of the neighboring house. He also said he noticed some suspicious activity around the home last night. Four people appeared to be checking the house for access, he said.
“It’s just insane,” he said.
Since the young girl’s death, firefighters had been hearing rumors that the house was going to burn down, Scholtes said. Another neighbor said he also heard the same rumor. Though Scholtes said arson was “most likely” the cause of the blaze, he said the fire remains under investigation and the East Joliet Fire Protection District’s arson investigator was on the scene earlier in the day.
No obvious signs of how the fire started were immediately found, Scholtes said. He added that none of the windows was open and the doors to the home were locked when firefighters arrived.
Investigators from the Will County sheriff’s office also were on the scene and went door to door as firefighters kept the blaze under control, Scholtes said. He did not know the results of the investigator’s efforts and a sheriff’s official could not be reached for comment.
In an initial news release about the fire, sheriff’s officials said an arson investigator was not being requested. An hour later in another news release, sheriff’s officials said after consulting with the East Joliet Fire Protection District and the Will County state’s attorney’s office, officials contacted the Illinois State Fire Marshal to conduct an investigation of the blaze.
Alicia Fabbre is a freelance reporter.
(c)2017 the Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.