A woman, her boyfriend, and three small children died in a horrific fire in their home. Did their downstairs neighbor set that fire -- and did she set it over a dispute over a stroller left in a shared hallway? That's what a jury must decide this week. Melanie Smith is accused of murdering a family of five by setting fire to the family's stroller.
Smith lived on the bottom floor of a building. Lee-Ann Shires, her boyfriend Liam Tembrell, their 15-month-old son Charlie, and Shires' 2-year-old niece Skye and 4-year-old nephew Bailey all lived in the apartment above. When a fire started on the first floor, Smith managed to escape through a window. But Shires and the children were trapped on the second floor. Tembrell managed to escape and lived long enough to finger Smith as the suspect before dying in the hospital a week later.
"I heard a woman shouting in the street, 'I am going to set fire to your house'. It was Mel, she said, 'I am going to burn the house down,'" Tembrell told paramedics. "It was arson, she did it, Mel did it."
"She was shouting through the letter box, 'I am going to burn your house down,'" he told a community support officer.
How could Tembrell be so sure it was his neighbor? In the trial, the jury heard that for the past couple of months, there had been hostile arguments between the family and Smith over the stroller in the hallway, noise from upstairs, and the family's supposed messy habits. Allegedly, Smith had threatened to set fire to the family's home. I know it's hard for people to live near each other, and neighbor disputes can get ugly. But leading to arson and murder?
When emergency responders arrived at the scene, they found Smith smoking from across the street, and asked her how many children were in the fire. Smith reportedly replied, "How the f*** do I know? They're all up there."
It seems a needlessly cruel way to respond to the idea that small children might be dying in a fire. The details from emergency phone calls from within Shires home are horrifying. If this really was a case of arson, someone should be held accountable! Smith may have set fire to the stroller, never believing that fire could actually spread to the apartment above and kill everyone, including the children, inside. But children died a horrifying death, whatever the intentions were.
Can you imagine a neighbor ever being angry enough to cause you physical harm like this?
Image via Graham and Sheila/Flickr