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Man charged in southern Illinois house fire that killed 4 children

Published: Saturday, May 11, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(AP photo)
A firefighter looks through the upstairs window of a home Friday in Percy where a fire killed four children. Prosecutors in Randolph County have filed first-degree murder charges against a suspect in connection with the overnight fire.

PERCY – Authorities charged a 33-year-old man with the murder of four young siblings, ranging in age from 5 to 12, who perished in a house fire early Friday in the small southwestern Illinois village of Percy.

Randolph County State’s Attorney Jeremy Walker announced Friday afternoon that Derrick J. Twardoski faces four counts of first-degree murder. Twardoski was being held without bond at the Randolph County Jail. His first court appearance was scheduled for Monday. Prosecutors will seek a life sentence in prison, according to court documents.

“This does not appear to be any sort of random act,” Walker said at a press conference hours before the charges were announced. He did not say what evidence led investigators to the suspect or what relationship he may have had with the victims.

Walker identified the victims as four members of the Owen family: 12-year-old Ethan, 9-year-old Kailey and 5-year-old twins Brandon and Landon.

A 6-year-old child suffered smoke inhalation and was being treated at a hospital. The children’s parents and an 18-year-old woman also escaped the fire. The blaze, which started around 2 a.m., badly damaged the two-story home in the village about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis.

Authorities didn’t identify the survivors, hoping to preserve their privacy. They asked the public to call the Randolph County sheriff’s office if they have information that could help with the investigation.

“I looked out my window and it was just in flames,” neighbor Shirley Hornbostel said. “Flames were coming out the roof and windows.” She said the family moved into the home last year and the father is a truck driver. She remembered the children were always under their parents’ supervision when they played outside or road their bikes.

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