NEW YORK (CBS) The deaths of a mother and four children in a torched New York City apartment were being investigated Thursday as a possible murder-suicide committed by one of the children, a troubled teenager with a history of setting fires, police said.
Two young girls whose badly burned bodies were found in a front room of the apartment along with their mother and 2-year-old brother had slit throats, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said.
The body of an older brother, 14-year-old C.J. Jones, was found slumped over a bed in a back bedroom, his throat also slit, Browne said. A straight razor was discovered underneath his body.
Police were investigating the possibility that the teen may have killed his mother and siblings - ages 2 to 10 - set the house ablaze and killed himself, Browne said.
Browne said the boy recently had been kicked out of a public pool for setting a fire there and that neighbors described him lighting paper on fire in front his apartment building in recent days.
Earlier Thursday, fire officials had said the blaze started in the Staten Island apartment that Leisa Jones shared with her kids and quickly moved through the two-story building's attic space and roof. The tenants in the other three apartments got out safely.
Nicholas Cotton, who lived in the other second-floor apartment with his girlfriend, Shannon Barback, said they were awakened by banging. He went to the window and saw people outside yelling, "Fire!"
He didn't see anything until he opened his bathroom door and saw flames shooting through the wall from Jones' apartment.
The 32-year-old Jones attended a beauty school during the day, neighbors said. Her other children were identified as 2-year-old Jermaine, 7-year-old Melonie, 10-year-old Brittney.
"She came out here to try to make a better life for her kids," said her friend Shaquawna Meaders, 25, who lived down the street and was at Jones' apartment Wednesday night.
Jones came from Trinidad; the children's father lived on the island of Jamaica.
"Everywhere she went, if they weren't in school, the kids were always with her," said Meaders, tears streaming down her face.
Criseena Lee, a downstairs neighbor who escaped unharmed, said Jones had lived in the building for about a year and "took care of her kids very well," Lee said.
"The kids were sweet, very innocent," she said. Lee's children, ages 6 and 10, played with Jones' kids, and they went to the pool together, she said.
Meaders described the last evening at her friend's apartment as "a nice night," with C.J. singing and making them all laugh.
The blaze was very heavy when firefighters arrived on the scene shortly after receiving the call at around 4:15 a.m. The fire in the Port Richmond section was declared under control about an hour and a half later.
Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Pfeifer said a firefighter was able to get Jermaine out of the burning apartment because the boy was near the front door. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.