(NEW ORLEANS) — Three children were killed in a house fire in New Orleans early Wednesday morning that was allegedly set by their father following an apparent domestic dispute, police said.
The father — identified by police as Joseph Washington Sr., 29 — was apprehended following a manhunt Wednesday and faces multiple charges including second-degree murder, according to New Orleans Deputy Superintendent Ryan Lubrano.
“We are here because of the tragic and senseless, horrific deaths of three young children last night in a domestic violence situation,” New Orleans interim Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said at a press briefing Wednesday.
The children’s mother called 911 at 11:55 p.m. Tuesday night to report that their father intended to burn down their house, New Orleans police said. A fire was reported at the address “moments later,” police said.
The mother was not at the home when the fire started but was on her way there, according to police.
“He’s going crazy,” the mother said in a 911 call released by the Orleans Parish Communications District. “I’m at work. I’m trying to hurry up and go there right now.”
The mother told the 911 operator that her ex-husband was screaming and “said he’s about to burn the house” while begging for police to hurry.
First responders found the house engulfed in flames, police said. A 5-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy were rescued from the home by firefighters, but were pronounced dead at a hospital about an hour later. The body of a 3-year-old boy was also recovered from the home and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Washington was identified as the prime suspect in the homicides, police said. His car was found earlier Wednesday in Gretna, partially submerged in the Mississippi River, police said. He was later apprehended on the I-610 after allegedly attempting to flee by jumping off the overpass and taken to a local hospital for treatment of injuries sustained in the fall, police said.
Washington has been charged with three counts of second-degree murder, three counts of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile and one count of aggravated arson, police said. The charges could change, Lubrano said.
The children’s cause of death will be determined by the coroner.
What sparked the fire is currently under investigation, Lubrano said. Police are also reviewing the parents’ custody arrangement and whether officers have responded to the home before.
“Collectively we are outraged, we are disappointed, we are deeply saddened,” interim Chief Kirkpatrick said while surrounded by members of the community during the briefing.
“The person responsible will be held accountable,” she added.
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