PERCY, IL (KTVI) – Four children, including twin boys, died in an overnight house fire in Percy, Illinois Friday that authorities believe was deliberately set.
Derrick J. Twardoski, 33, has been charged with 4 counts of 1st Degree Murder. He is originally from Cutler, Illinois, which is very close to Percy, and is also the town where the victims used to live.
Authorities are not saying anything about a possible motive or connection between the victims and the suspect.
The fire started a little before 2:00 a.m. Friday at a home on Almond Street.
The home sustained heavy damage in the fire. Family members identify the homeowner as Matt Owen. They say Owen lived in the house with his wife, their five young children and a cousin.
Owen's uncle says Owen and his wife made it out along with their fifth child, a 7 year old boy, and the cousin. Noah Owen, 7, was was hospitalized but was later released.
The children's names who were killed in the fire are Ethan Owen, 12, Kailey Owen, 9, Brandon Owen, 5 and Landon Owen, 5. All of the kids who were killed were sleeping upstairs and the family couldn't get to them because of the fire.
Several agencies were on the scene including the Illinois State Fire Marshal with its arson investigation unit and the Crime Scene Investigation unit for the Illinois State Police.
No official information has been released on a cause of the fire.
Gas cans could be seen in the yard around the home and it appears several of the tires on two vehicles parked at the house had been slashed. Authorities won`t comment on those details.
We also saw investigators looking at what appeared to be a foot print in front of the home.
Authorities identified the foot print with an evidence marker.
Twardoski is being held at the Randolph County Jail. No bond has been set and won't be at least until Monday, when he makes his initial court appearance.
Relative Alerts Family To House Fire, But Four Die
The death toll might have been worse if 19-year-old Megan Inselmann had not been awake. The teen was working for her older cousin Matt Owen and his family as a babysitter and living with the family. About 1:45am she heard an alarm and windows breaking. She ran upstairs from her basement bedroom to find a rear entrance way engulfed in flames.
"I was terrified and the only thing I could think of was Noah's on the couch the kids are upstairs, Matt and Tasha's door is closed they can't ..all I could do was scream for them to wake up," she said Friday afternoon.
Inselmann ran outside and around the house to the front door where she grabbed 7-year old Noah from Owen's arms. She took him across the street where she used her cell phone to call 9-1-1.
Inselmann and Owen then climbed on a porch roof to try to open a second floor window and rescue the four sleeping children. "It wouldn't open," she said. "Matt tried to break it and it shattered as soon as he touched it."
Heavy smoke immediately poured from the window. "Tons of smoke. We couldn't see," Inselmann said. Four children trapped on the second floor died.
The fifth child, Noah had fallen asleep on the downstairs couch. His dad was sore from a day of working in the garden and decided not to carry him upstairs to his bedroom. That decision saved his life. He was treated at a hospital and released. A 15-year old son, Austin from a previous marriage was staying with his mother.
Megan Inselmann choked back tears as she talked about the children of Matt and Tasha Owen. "They were all so lovable; I can't even explain. Kailey stands out as the biggest drama queen ever; Landan and Brandan (five year old twins) loved to cuddle up and give hugs and kisses and say I love you. Ethan was more of the laid back I'm a teenage kind of boy...I like to go fishing."
"I didn't get them all out, but I tried," she said tearfully.
Friends React To Suspect Being Charged
Kaitlyn Farmer was friends with one of the victims. She attended elementary school with all of the victims.
"It is hard to understand that one of my friends is gone," she said.
Her father said he had a hard time explaining what happened to his nine-year-old's friend.
"You wish you could say something to your own child to make it go away, but you can't. I just don't know why this happened," Bill Farmer said. "We don't have it, but If anyone ever deserved the death penalty."
Inside of the St. Mark Lutheran Church in Steelville Pastor Alan Janneke is working with his parish to see how he can help the Owen family.
“They`ve got a lot of family support here and our church family will encourage them in prayer,” said Reverend Janneke
Pastor Jannneke has been counseling the family and says the community is coming together to help out. He says the family has lost their home and will have needs down the line. FOX 2 also tried to get photos from family members but was told they lost most of them in the fire.
Funeral arrangements are being made at Wilson Funeral Home in Steelville.