By DON BABWIN
CHICAGO (AP) – Child welfare officials are investigating “allegations of neglect” after nine children were killed and another was left critically injured in an apartment fire in Chicago, a state agency said Tuesday.
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services spokeswoman Alissandra Calderon declined to provide details of the focus of the investigation or explain the alleged neglect. But one question still unanswered is why there were no adults in the Southwest Side apartment when fire swept through it before dawn on Sunday.
Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford said Monday that after initially believing two of the victims were adults, investigators have determined that all of them were minors, ranging in age from three months to teenagers. Nine died and a 14-year-old boy remained in critical condition Tuesday.
In an email to The Associated Press, Calderon said Tuesday that several families were affected by the fire, and that the agency has had past dealings with three of them. She said there were no pending DCFS investigations involving those families at the time of the fire.
Langford said the investigation revealed that the 10 juveniles attending a sleepover in the house were apparently overwhelmed by smoke as they slept and never even awoke to flee the fire that killed them.
“From where the bodies were, there is a high probability… that they were overcome by smoke,” said Larry Langford. “We didn’t find anybody that looked like they were trying to get out the door.”
Had there been even a single working smoke alarm in the building, the victims could have simply walked out the front door to safety.
The cause of the deadliest residential fire in the city in well over a decade remained under investigation.
Langford said investigators determined that the fire started on a back porch and have ruled out electrical wiring problems as a cause. After learning that children had set off fireworks from the porch and that people smoked cigarettes there, they are conducting a “social investigation” to determine what activities might have occurred on the porch before the fire.
But the investigation has been hindered by a lack of witnesses. Eight of the victims died on Sunday, a ninth died Monday and the surviving teenager was too badly injured to be interviewed. Langford said Monday that nobody else was in the apartment at the time of the fire.
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