Out of the Ashes

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But something besides flames stood starkly in the way of any attempts to get to them: thick metal burglar bars bolted to brick around each bedroom window, and a love seat someone had shoved against the front door.

The adrenaline was pumping, and firefighters tried every way they could to force their way past the bars. Firefighter Ronald Childre used an ax to loosen the bricks beneath the burglar bars outside one bedroom window, then rammed a crowbar in the gap and yanked off the bars. With the aid of another firefighter, he pulled out the limp body of a 10-year-old boy. It was Ketrick Jordan.

The rescuers would end up pulling all six victims from the same bedroom. Each was unconscious. The firefighters and paramedics lined them up in the grass in the front yard and frantically tried to revive them--from 2-year-old Jasmas, or "Jazz," the youngest girl, to 18-year-old Demetra, her mother.

Only Ketrick would make it. Later, he would tell how he helped his older sister break the window, then pushed his face against the burglar bars to gulp in fresh air until he passed out.

The other children who died were siblings Bernard Jordan, 16; Ericka Jordan, 9; and Jamaal Jordan, 6. Bernard was found on the floor between two twin beds, covering two of the younger children as though he were protecting them. Demetra had a severe cut on her wrist from breaking the bedroom window. All of the children succumbed to a combination of smoke inhalation and burns. The fire started while their grandmother Mollie Jordan was working back-to-back shifts at a VA hospital and convalescent home to provide for the six children in her care.

Fire investigators were quick to suspect arson and soon began hearing bizarre stories about Jamaicans, drugs and mysterious threats.

Just hours after the fire, Captain Debra Carlin was sifting through the ashes and rubble with another fire investigator, W.R. Young, trying to figure out how and where the flames ignited. While the home's interior was severely damaged, the structure was still standing, and investigators knew to dig down until they found the lowest part of the house marked by burns. "To be an arson investigator," says Carlin, who is now the Dallas fire marshal, "you have to get down and dirty; you have to literally dig all of the burned debris out to get to the lowest point." Rooting in the den and living room at the front of the house, they noticed the distinctive pattern of burn marks left on the floor by a flammable liquid.

They found other clues by a den window, the only one at the front of the house that wasn't encased in burglar bars: There was broken glass on the carpet, suggesting the window had been broken from the outside. The flames appeared to have vented through that same window, leaving heavy burn marks on the wall. When they found a charred and mostly empty gasoline can, the picture began to come into focus: The fire had been set intentionally. The burn patterns from the liquid were broken in patches; whatever liquid caused the spread of the fire had been dumped out in splashes. This wasn't a case in which a child had mistakenly kicked over a gas can and the liquid simply flowed out.

To this day, one bit of evidence--the love seat pushed against the front door, which may have prevented the Jordan children from escaping and hindered firefighters' attempts to rescue them--still doesn't make sense. Did the arsonists haul it there, blocking the most logical exit? Had Bernard pushed it there in an attempt to keep intruders out of the home?

Carlin also found a child's memento that made the tragedy hit home. "When I went into that bedroom where they were, one of my most vivid memories of any investigation I've ever done...was a picture taken out of a child's coloring book," she says. It was pinned to the wall next to the window. "It was a firefighter sliding down a pole. And one of the children had written on it, 'The firefighter is my friends.' And it just broke your heart to see that next to where they all died."

Carlin and Young called in police homicide detectives when they believed they had an arson case, and carpet and flooring samples they'd taken from the home showed up positive for gasoline soon afterward. They knew of no one, however, who'd seen intruders enter the home that night, much less set a fire. But the physical evidence seemed to indicate that the arsonists had set foot inside the home.

The investigators turned to Ketrick Jordan for information once his condition had stabilized. Today, he clearly remembers Bernard's state of agitation that night. Ketrick decided to go to bed in the girls' bedroom instead of his own because he was scared. He got up late at night for a glass of milk and found Bernard talking through the partly open front door to several men on the porch. Whatever they were saying, Bernard seemed upset by it. He quickly shooed his little brother back into bed.

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Julie Lyons
Contact: Julie Lyons

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