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Detectives Investigate Arson Fire That Killed Four

September 2, 1989

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ An arsonist poured gasoline on the porch of a crowded foster home and set off a fire that killed four children and injured 12 other people, six of them critically, investigators said.

Five other children and six adults living at the house were injured in the fire early Thursday in north Philadelphia. A firefighter was also injured.

The blaze occurred two days after firefighters put out a fire of undetermined origin at the house, said fire Lt. Jack Christmas. Authorities had no suspects in either fire.

Six of the injured remained in critical condition Friday, one was in fair condition and three were stable following Thursday’s blaze at four area hospitals, officials said. Two people, including the firefighter, were treated and released.

Survivors, neighbors and the first firefighters and police on the scene and were being interviewed, Capt. Lawton Connelly said Friday.

″I was real scared,″ said resident Latasha Rogers, 18, who escaped through a window with her 2-year-old son and two other children.

The door of her second-floor bedroom was already on fire when she awoke. ″It still hasn’t hit me,″ she said. ″I still didn’t get over that the four had died. We were all so close.″

Eighteen people lived in the three-story house. Connelly said he did not know if police had talked to the other resident, a 23-year-old woman.

Connelly said it had been confirmed that gasoline was the source of Thursday’s blaze.

″The fire marshal informs us that we have four points of origin, two on the front porch, one inside the door and one at the base of the steps inside,″ said Connelly, commander of the homicide division.

Hubert and Rose Artis had run the home since 1972. Both were among the injured.

Mrs. Artis was in critical condition at Albert Einstein Medical Center along with three other residents, ages 20, 15 and 3, a hospital official said. A 12-year-old was listed as critical at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and a 17-year-old was critical at St. Agnes Medical Center, officials said. Artis was in stable condition.

City Licenses and Inspections Commissioner Donald Kligerman said the Artises did not have a zoning variance for the single-family area or licenses authorizing them to run a rooming house, to engage in food preparation or to operate a business.

However, Dick Olanoff, spokesman for the city Department of Human Services, said foster homes are considered private homes and do not need such licenses.

The Artises ″have been outstanding foster parents, as evidenced by the fact that two former foster children elected to stay there after they turned 18,″ Olanoff said.

The dead children were identified by the city Medical Examiner’s Office as Keith Moye, 7, and his brother, Preston Moye, 5; Anwan Hartwell, 9; and Robert Lavenhouse, 14. All were trapped in a second-floor bedroom.

The injured ranged in age from 2 to 65.