Shaquawna Meaders had spent “a nice night” at her friend’s apartment as the friend’s skinny 14-year-old son made them laugh and his young siblings prepared for a trip to Coney Island.
Then on Thursday, Meaders learned that her friend had died, the young girls’ throats had been slit and police had begun to suspect the boy who had been so witty the night before had killed them before setting their home ablaze and cutting his own throat. The boy’s 2-year-old brother died later at a hospital.
“It’s real hard to process something like this,” Meaders said, her eyes red from crying.
“C.J. was the most loving and caring person in the world,” said Meaders, who lives down the street. “I can’t see him doing any kind of harm to them.”
Meaders, 25, also found it difficult to believe such a small boy could have overpowered his mother.
“His mother would have been able to fight him off,” she said.
Nevertheless, police were investigating on the theory that it was a murder-suicide committed by a troubled teen with a history of setting fires.
Two girls whose badly burned bodies were found in a front room of the apartment had their throats slit, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said. The bodies of the girls, ages 7 and 10, were found along with that of their mother in the second-floor Staten Island apartment. The 2-year-old boy didn’t have his throat slashed.
The teenage boy’s body was found slumped over a bed in a back bedroom, Browne said. A straight razor was discovered underneath his body.
Autopsies on all five family members were scheduled for Friday, the medical examiner’s office said.
The teenage boy recently had been kicked out of a public pool for setting a fire there, and neighbors described him lighting paper on fire in front his apartment building in recent days, Browne said.
Firefighters said they believed the blaze was intentionally set, but their investigation was continuing.
Neighbor Raquel Fagone said she saw the teenager lighting scraps of paper in front of the building a few months ago.
“I told him not to do that, and he put them out,” Fagone said.
Then, early Thursday, she heard a commotion in the family’s apartment, directly above hers.
“It sounded like a little child running, upset, in distress, upset, screaming, running around,” she said. “I heard a bang and a kind of kaboom.”
Earlier Thursday, fire officials had said the blaze started in the apartment that Leisa Jones shared with her children 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 lives in the other second-floor apartment with his girlfriend, 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 and 10-year-old Brittney.
Jones came from Trinidad; the children’s father lived on the island of Jamaica.
Downstairs neighbor Criseena Lee, who escaped unharmed, said Jones had lived in the building for about a year and “took care of her kids very well.”
“The kids were sweet, very innocent,” said Lee, whose children played with Jones’ kids and went to the pool with them.
The blaze was very heavy when firefighters arrived on the scene, in the Port Richmond section, shortly after receiving a call at around 4:15 a.m. The fire was declared under control about an hour and a half later.