Person of interest in fatal South Chicago fire released without charges

- A person of interest who was questioned in connection with a “suspicious” fire that killed a man and three children dead early Tuesday in the South Chicago neighborhood has been released without charges.

The blaze was first reported at 1:36 a.m. in the three-story, courtyard apartment building in the 8100 block of South Essex, according to the Chicago Fire Department. It was upgraded to a three-alarm fire by 1:53 a.m.

Kirk Johnson, 56, and two girls — one 4 years old, one 7 years old — were later found dead inside the building after the fire was extinguished, a fire official said at the scene. The girl’s names were not released by the medical examiner’s office as of Thursday morning.

The children were found in one apartment, but were not together, said Arriel Gray, a deputy fire commissioner. Johnson, who lived in the building, was in a different apartment, Gray told reporters at the scene. All were on the third floor.

An autopsy Wednesday found Johnson died thermal injuries and carbon monoxide toxicity, according to the medical examiner’s office. His death was ruled a homicide.

A 45-year-old man was taken in serious-to-critical condition to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, authorities said. Witnesses at the scene told reporters that the man jumped from a third-floor window with a child in his arms.

The child, 3-month-old Melanie Watson, who lived in the building, was taken to Comer Children’s Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 2:40 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. An autopsy found she died from a fall from height and carbon monoxide toxicity. Her death was ruled a homicide.

Deputy commissioner Gray described the fire as “suspicious in nature.”

A person of interest was questioned in connection with the fire, but the person was released without charges, police said. No one was in custody Thursday morning as the investigation continued.

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