Family photo: An undated photo of the three oldest Jones children, (from left) Brittney, Melonie and C.J., who authorities believe killed his mother, siblings and then himself.
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SiLive.com: STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- What was first considered a tragic Port Richmond blaze that left a mother and four children dead yesterday took an almost unthinkable turn into a possible murder-suicide, with the woman’s troubled teenage son as the suspect.
Police believe 14-year-old C.J. Jones slit the throats of his sisters, 7-year-old Melonie and 10-year-old Brittney, torched his family’s apartment on the second floor of 302 Nicholas Ave., then ran a razor across his own throat.
The blaze raced through the apartment, burning up C.J., his sisters, his 2-year-old brother, Jermaine, and his 32-year-old mother, Leisa Jones, and sent 12 other tenants of the apartment buildings fleeing for their lives just after 4 a.m.
In the early hours after the blaze, police and fire officials were reluctant to publicly call the blaze suspicious, backing away from an initial report that it had been started by some type of accelerant.
At one point yesterday morning, FDNY spokesman Jim Long said arson was “less likely” to be the cause, and fire safety officials had set up a tent in Port Richmond giving out smoke detectors and fire safety pamphlets, pointing out that the apartment did not have appear to have a smoke detector.
But not long after investigators began to closely examine the charred remains of the family from the house, a different, even more chilling picture began to emerge.
Melonie and Brittney were found in the living room, their throats slit, law enforcement sources said. Their mother was found in the same room, lying on her stomach as if she came to from the fire and was crawling out, those sources said.
RAZOR UNDER BODY
C.J. was found slumped over a bed in a back bedroom, his throat also slit, Paul Browne, the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, told reporters yesterday. A straight razor was discovered underneath the boy’s body.
Family photo: Two-year-old Jermaine was the only victim whose throat was not slashed.
Two-year-old Jermaine’s throat was not believed to be slashed, though he was so badly burned authorities couldn’t tell his gender early on. He was rushed by emergency medical workers to Richmond University Medical Center, West Brighton where he was pronounced dead.
“We believe the fire was intentionally set and our investigation is continuing,” said FDNY spokesman Steve Ritea.
Autopsies on all five are slated to take place today, said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for the city medical examiner’s office.
Investigators hope that the results will answer some lingering questions, such as whether Ms. Jones’ throat was slit as well. Her body was too badly charred for detectives to determine that with any certainty yesterday, said one NYPD source familiar with the case.
Detectives ruled out the possibility of a sixth person entering the apartment, the source said. The blaze was started near the front door, so no one could get out and firefighters would have a hard time getting in, the NYPD source said.
C.J., it turned out, had a history of setting fires, according to Browne. Neighbors told investigators he had been lighting paper ablaze outside his apartment in recent days, and had been kicked out of Faber Pool in Port Richmond Wednesday for starting a fire on the grounds there.
C.J. reportedly had been suspended from Laurie Intermediate School for assaulting an assistant principal earlier this year. He had also been attending summer school there.
Family photo: Leisa Jones had been attending beauty school and supported her family by working part-time as a security guard.
Neighbors and friends gave no indication of strife within the family when interviewed yesterday morning.
Just hours before the blaze, Ms. Jones was sitting on her front steps with her best friend and neighbor, Shaquanwna Meaders, talking about a trip their children were supposed to take to Coney Island yesterday, Ms. Meaders recalled.
“She was sweet as ever,” she said. “She would do my hair and we would talk for hours. She was the coolest girl.”
Other neighbors described the children as well-behaved. “They were very good, respectful kids,” said Criseena Lee, 35, who lives in another apartment in the same building with her two young sons.
Later, when asked about the past fires, and investigators’ suspicions about C.J., she said, “I can’t speak on that. I’d never seen him light a fire. I have no clue and I have no comment on that.
Ms. Jones, a native of Trinidad, worked part-time as a security guard. She also was attending beauty school; the father of three of the children lives on the island of Jamaica. Jermaine’s biological father — whose last name is Sinclair — resides in Maryland.
Public records show Ms. Jones was struggling financially — she had been evicted in the fall of 2008 from her apartment in Washington, D.C., and her current landlord, Alber Morcos, had started eviction proceedings in February, and was suing her for $6,580.
Lanetta Oats, who was a neighbor in Ms. Jones’ D.C. apartment building, described C.J. as verbally abusive to his mother and his sisters.
“She loved her kids. But C.J. was bossy,” Ms. Oats said when contacted by the Advance. Ms. Jones couldn’t speak English well, she said, and C.J. would speak on her behalf.
“He had no respect for his mother. He would just talk to them, real mean to them,” Ms. Oats said.
Ms. Oats said she would often reprimand C.J., telling her he couldn’t speak to his mother like that, though she didn’t have any specific examples of what he said. “He would just be really demanding,” Ms. Oats said.
When asked whether she thought C.J. was capable of murder, “I don’t really know. I can’t answer that.”