Father survives suspicious house fire that kills wife, 2 daughters
03/16/2016 2:14 pm PDT
A fast-moving house fire kills a mother and her two daughters in Gwinnett County, Georgia, near Atlanta, on February 9. The father manages to escape. Now investigators are looking into whether or not the blaze was intentionally set.
The Pattersons were a beautiful family of four with a storybook life. But on that cold winter night a raging inferno turned the black sky orange, and only one member of the family made it out alive.
Kathy Patterson, 39, and her two daughters, 12-year-old Kayla and 9-year-old Madelyn, were trapped on the second floor of the house in Tucker, Georgia.
Tragically, no one could save them, not even the man Kathy was in love with, 54-year-old husband Brent.
"There was nothing I could do, I tried everything I could," said Brent Patterson. "Me and my neighbor George got a shovel and tried to and broke the back glass but it was so hot we couldn't get in. There's nothing we could do and they're dead. They burned to death."
Photos show a picture-perfect family who did everything together: trips to the beach, celebrating Halloween, and they even slept together.
"We all sleep in the same room right up there, the girls have beds, mattresses on both sides of our bed," said Patterson.
But it's not the sleeping arrangements that piqued the interest of investigators. It was actually the suspicious nature of the fire. Now they've begun a criminal arson probe.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter says his investigators question Brent Patterson's story.
"When the inconsistencies started to arise in the version of events, that naturally caught the attention of my investigators in my office," said Porter.
"It was like 10 or 10:30, we were all upstairs and I heard a noise, so that's what you do when you hear a noise -- you go check it out, and I came downstairs and I opened the door and then it like exploded," Patterson told station partner WGCL the day after the blaze.
But police records show the 911 call came in at 8:31 p.m., at least 90 minutes before the time Patterson told WGCL that the fire started.
In the search warrant obtained by Crime Watch Daily, Patterson first tells investigators they "were all upstairs in the master bedroom together getting ready for bed around 8:30 p.m."
He also says he "saw fire and smoke coming from the living room."
But in a second interview three days later, Patterson tells investigators "he did not see any smoke or fire."
"We were all in bed," said Patterson.
The search warrant says there is probable cause to believe this could be a case of first-degree arson.
"We're waiting on results from items that were taken from the home, they're going to be sent to a lab, both criminal and private labs, for testing by the fire department," said Gwinnett County Fire Captain Tommy Rutledge.
But Patterson says there is no investigation, and he knows what caused the fire.
"The cause is the couch," said Patterson. "The cord behind the couch caught fire and the fire got in the walls, and you can see the fire got in the wall, and when I opened the door it exploded. It's not under investigation."
But strangely enough, Patterson made a chilling call to 911 before the fire, raising questions about a carbon monoxide detector.
"We had a carbon monoxide alarm going off and I went and I bought a new one at Home Depot, and this one went off one time and it stopped," Patterson is heard on a 911 call. "But I'm a little bit concerned, and I've got to go to work. I'm a restaurant manager. I don't want to leave my family here and come home and find them dead."
Patterson has never been named a suspect or person of interest, and he's not been charged in connection with the fire.
Patterson could be called a serial 911 caller. He made a bizarre call three months before the fire, telling the operator that he got ripped off from a guy in Maryland selling dogs.
WGCL reports that the dogs died under mysterious circumstances.
In another non-emergency call, Patterson says his daughter Kayla was hit by a car. He waited until the next day to report it.
"Hi, I need to report a hit-and-run from last night," Patterson tells a 911 operator. "A black SUV in our neighborhood rolled through the stop sign, didn't stop at the stop sign, and hit my 11-year-old daughter on her bike."
Were there other signs of danger at the Patterson home? During the arson investigation, the search warrant claims "Kathy had received psychiatric treatment in the past for emotional issues" and her parents "confirmed that she drank alcohol."
The family was reportedly the subject of a four-month long child neglect investigation by the Department of Family and Children Services.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quotes a neighbor saying Kathy was "unable to function," and helped her "in getting up off the floor and into her bed" after she drank.
The report concluded there were "many red flags" in Kathy's behavior and that the children's environment is "causing extreme stress." The case was ultimately closed.
For now Patterson is trying to pick up the pieces of his shattered life. The cause of the fire remains a mystery.