Police Suspect Arson in Lawndale Fire that Killed Woman, Injured 2 Children

By Alex Parker  and Geoff Ziezulewicz  on December 29, 2012 8:30am  | Updated on December 29, 2012 7:07pm

 The building that burned on the 4200 block of W. 21st Place. A 30-year-old woman was killed in the blaze.
The building that burned on the 4200 block of W. 21st Place. A 30-year-old woman was killed in the blaze.
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DNAinfo/Geoff Ziezulewicz

CHICAGO — A 33-year-old woman has died and two young children suffered life-threatening injuries from a Lawndale fire that was likely caused intentionally.

"The preliminary indication (is arson) based on the investigation so far," said police Spokesman Daniel O'Brien. Police believe "the male used an accelerant and set the fire."

In total, six people were hospitalized, including a 4-year-old girl who suffered burns on 100 percent of her body, and an 8-year-old boy who suffered burns on 37 percent of his body, mostly on the lower extremities. A 33-year-old man suffered burns on 90 percent of his body, fire officials said.

O'Brien said they remain in critical condition.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office identified the woman as Taniya Johnson, of the 4500 block of West Harrison Street. She was pronounced dead at 7:40 a.m. at Stroger Hospital.

The fire, on the 4200 block of West 21st Place, was contained to the first floor of a two-story apartment building. Most of the fire was in a bedroom, special operation Battalion Chief James Purl said. Fire officials said several rescues were made quickly.

The victims were take to Mt. Sinai and Stroger hospitals. Two other women - an 84-year-old and a 21-year-old - were treated for smoke inhalation.

Purl said the cause of the fire was still under investigation, and would not comment on the possible cause. Chicago police Officer Robert Perez said the department's bomb and arson detectives were investigating the blaze.

"(Detectives) have not determined anything concerte at this time," he said.

Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said the two children were found by a Christmas tree in the front of the apartment.

Langford said the 4-year-old girl was in surgery this morning, but said the chances of her survival were slim. He said the 33-year-old man had a poor prognosis for survival.

In the aftermath of the fire, residents of the building were clearing out salvageable possessions.

Kenneth Jordan's sister daughter and grandson lived upstairs.

They were all okay, the 51-year-old airport employee said. Jordan said he's not sure what sparked the fire, but he had heard someone threw gas on the victims. Police could not confirm that, and fire officials are investigating the cause of the blaze.

 The living room of the apartment that burned on the 4200 block of W. 21st Place. A 30-year-old woman was killed in the blaze.
The living room of the apartment that burned on the 4200 block of W. 21st Place. A 30-year-old woman was killed in the blaze.
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DNAinfo/Geoff Ziezulewicz

As of 9:30 Saturday, Jordan said the family was trying to save what they could before the house was boarded up.

"The house is unliveable," he said.

Neighbor Walter Payne said an elderly woman lived in the apartment. He said he was lying in bed watching television when the fire broke out. He said the woman's son, who was dating a woman with two small children, had mental issues.

Payne said he saw flames and then a woman lying in the front yard.

"They laid the woman right there in the grass. She was gone," he said.

He said he saw the elderly woman and her son sitting outside the house after the fire. The son was naked, Payne said, as his clothes appeared to have been burned off.

“His body was burnt just about all over,” Payne said.

Payne said the mother had brought the son home from a mental institution a few months ago. He said the son had been committed after filling a bathub with gasoline.

Crews responded to the fire at 4:39 Saturday morning, Purl said, and it was out by 5:40 a.m. The fire department will hand out fire safety equipment in the neighborhood this morning.

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