ATF: Raytown apt fire started in trash can

Posted at 8:32 AM, Feb 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-12 18:49:09-05

UPDATE, 2/12: ATF Investigators have determined that the fire started in a trash can in the first floor laundry room of the apartment building. Investigators have found nothing at this point in their investigation to indicate that the fire was intentionally set.

UPDATE, 2/9: The Raytown Fire Protection District reported a second fatality from Sunday's apartment fire in Raytown. 

The fire protection district reported Cherri Roberts, 59, died from injuries sustained in the fire on Tuesday. Firefighters pulled Roberts from the flames and she was taken to the hospital in critical condition before passing away.

According to the family, 4-year-old Jeremiah Roberts was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The child's 18-month-old brother, Ja' Bin Roberts, is in critical condition and is being treated at Children's Mercy Hospital. Jeremiah's grandmother, Cherri Roberts, was in critical condition and later died from her injuries. 

"Jeremiah was an awesome child of my sisters," said Grady Lauderdale, an uncle of the children. "He was just an outstanding kid who loved school, loved everybody, loved his family.” 

Lauderdale says his 18-month-old nephew is still fighting for his life. 

“I heard a bang on my door and my son was trying to wake me up," said Angel Hill, who lives in the apartment below her cousin. "When I told him to hold on so I can put on some clothes, he told me it couldn’t wait." 

Hill rushed out the door just in time before the flames destroyed all of her belongings, but she says that doesn't matter. 

“I’m not even thinking about us losing everything right now. It’s a hard pill to swallow when a kid lost his life," said Hill.

As they grieve, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ National Response Team arrived to the building part of the Somerset Village Apartments on East 60th street off of Raytown Road late Tuesday morning.



The team is made up of investigators, engineers and even chemists who are working with local and state agencies to determine how the fire began.



“Starting out, everything is on the table right now, there is no reason to think that this is a criminal matter but we simply don’t know until we can get in there and finish the scene evaluation,” John Ham, an agent with the ATF, said.

During a press conference, Ham said the heavy winds on Tuesday continued to make for unsafe conditions around the burnt apartment building.

An official cause of the fire is still unknown, but people who know the Roberts family said the news of Cherri's passing made their heartbreak even worse.

"The boys would smile. They would laugh. They were just being babies," explained Linda Abbott, who was a neighbor of the Roberts family at Somerset Apartments before they moved to the unit lost in the fire. "They would play all the time, run up the halls, and have fun."

Abbott said the boys were often happy and polite.

"I talked to them," she said. "They would hold the door open for me, I would hold the door open for them. They would play."

Others, like Ashley Arnold, lived in the same building that burnt down on Sunday.

"All my son's stuff, like his baby book, his first hair cut, his teeth he had lost, they were all in there," she explained.

Arnold said she often saw the Jeremiah around his father and playing with his older brother.

"Every time I saw them they were always so happy. Those kids were so beautiful," said Arnold. "They were always holding the door. If they saw me carrying groceries in, they would hold the door open for me. "

Investigators say the deaths of Jeremiah and Cherri Roberts are motivating them to get all questions answered about the fire.

Twenty ATF agents from around the country are now helping in the investigation. Ham said it will take at least a week before an official cause is known.

While Arnold continues to try and recover from the fire, she said she knows the Roberts family is in a much worse place.

"Many of the things [we lost in the fire] could be replaced. The baby book can't, but we can move on," she said. "They [the Roberts family] can't move on like that. They lost people. That's someone they will never see again."

Assistance for the victims

The American Red Cross is assisting 13 individuals affected by the fire, including six families: 10 adults and three children.



Financial assistance is being provided to help with emergency needs that include lodging, food, clothing, prescription medicines, and, as needed, funeral assistance. Additional assistance includes disaster mental health counseling and casework referrals to partner agencies that provide services not available through the Red Cross.

CLICK HERE if you would like to donate to the families who lost their home. 



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