NEW ORLEANS (TCD) -- Three children, all younger than 8 years old, were killed in a house fire early Wednesday morning in what police are now investigating as a homicide case.
The New Orleans Fire Department said in a statement firefighters received a call Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 12:09 a.m., about "possible persons trapped" inside a home on the 4900 block of America Street. Trucks arrived five minutes later and fire crew were told that three children were likely still in the residence.
Firefighters started an "interior attack" of the fire and searched for the children at the same time. They discovered an unresponsive child near the front door and another between the kitchen and entryway. Firefighters tried to resuscitate them before EMS arrived and transported the two juveniles to the hospital, where they died. WVUE-TV reports the victims were an 8-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl.
The fire department received a request for a second alarm at 12:27 a.m. because firefighters did not want the blaze to spread to neighboring homes. Officials continued to search the home for the third child and found a toddler "near the center of the dwelling." The 3-year-old child was already dead.
According to the statement, 17 trucks and other vehicles responded to the home with 46 fire personnel battling the flames. The fire was under control at 12:40 a.m.
Police reportedly suspect the children’s father, Joseph Washington, started the blaze. WVUE shared surveillance footage from a neighbor’s Ring camera that showed the fire and a man exiting the home, then getting into a dark vehicle. About 11 hours later, a black Dodge Charger was reportedly pulled out of a levee.
In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Deputy Superintendent Ryan Lubrano confirmed Washington was arrested at approximately 11:40 a.m. on three counts of second-degree murder, three counts of cruelty to a juvenile, and one count of aggravated arson. He was transported to a hospital due to injuries he sustained during the apprehension.
Lubrano said Washington’s car was found "partially submerged" in the levee. He reportedly jumped off the onramp to the freeway, then ran off. Officers quickly apprehended him.
Washington’s father, Troy McDonnell, urged his son to turn himself in.
The children’s mother was reportedly at work when the fire broke out, and she is now allegedly at the hospital being monitored for suicide. Washington and the children’s mother married in 2014 but split up five years later.
Washington has previously been convicted of domestic violence-related crimes. The New Orleans Advocate reports he often choked the children’s mother, hit her, and threatened to kill her in 2018. She later filed for a restraining order against him.
Interim Superintendent of Police Anne Kirkpatrick said at the news conference, "We are outraged. We are disappointed. We are deeply saddened."