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Archive for Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fire officials continue to investigate arson-related deaths 30 miles southwest of Lawrence

Osage County Sheriff’s and Scranton Police officers meet outside a home in Scranton on Tuesday. An adult and three children were found dead at the house on Monday, and a fire that had been set inside was ruled arson.

Osage County Sheriff’s and Scranton Police officers meet outside a home in Scranton on Tuesday. An adult and three children were found dead at the house on Monday, and a fire that had been set inside was ruled arson.

January 13, 2009

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Officials suspect fatal Osage County fire was arson

Officials think a fire that killed three children and one man in Scranton was intentionally set. Enlarge video

— Investigators tried Tuesday to sort out the details of an arson at a home where three children and an adult were found dead, while neighbors struggled to make sense of what happened.

A half-dozen police vehicles were parked in the front yard Tuesday as investigators continued looking into what happened inside the single-story tan house with red shutters. Yellow crime scene tape ringed the house, but there was little evidence outside that there had been a fire Monday morning.

Osage County Sheriff Laurie Dunn said she wouldn’t release the names of the victims or details of what happened until the victims have been positively identified and the cause of the deaths established by the coroner’s office in neighboring Shawnee County.

A message posted Tuesday night on the sheriff’s Web site said only that Dunn expected to hold a news conference this afternoon.

Dunn said Tuesday the victims included an adult and three children under age 17 but declined to say where they were found in the house or their genders. She said no arrests had made Tuesday.

The Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office said the blaze was arson, but declined to say what led to that conclusion.

Dunn said authorities received a call at 10:39 a.m. Monday but added, “The fire was out when everybody arrived.”

Osage County tax records available online showed the house was owned by Michael L. and Amy C. Shirley. Neighbors said they lived there with their three children, two boys and a girl.

In the nearby town of Carbondale, the principal of the Carbondale Attendance Center — which serves kindergarten through eighth grade — confirmed that three of its students had died but declined to release their names or ages. Eight additional counselors and one psychologist were at the school Tuesday to help grieving students.

Neighbor Tony Roberts said that when he moved in seven years ago, the family came over to introduce themselves. He declined to speculate about what happened, although there were ample rumors in this rural community of 725 about 35 miles southeast of Lawrence.

“They were good folks and the kids were real respectful,” he said. “They were a decent family. They were really good people.”

The Kansas Lottery said a Scranton man identified as Michael Shirley won a $20,000 prize in a drawing last year and in 2007 won $8,600 in cash and merchandise in a drawing.

At the RC Branding Iron Restaurant and Saloon, manager Chad Berkley said the restaurant was abuzz with talk. “In a small town, it takes only a day for a story to get worse than it was. It’s definitely shocking when something like this happens in a small town. You never expect it,” Berkley said.

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