Man suspected of starting fatal fire dies

A man who poured accelerant on some victims, setting a fire that left one woman dead and two of her children badly burned in the Lawndale neighborhood early Saturday has died, officials said.

Nathaniel Beller, 29, was pronounced dead at 12:10 p.m. at John H. Stroger JR. Hospital of Cook County, according to a spokesman for the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Beller allegedly set the fire that left a woman dead and two children badly hurt, according to the spokesman.

An autopsy will be conducted Monday that will determined the cause and manner of his death.

A girl, whose grandmother said was 3 although officials initially had listed her age as 5, was taken to Stroger hospital with burns over her entire body, officials said. A 9-year-old boy was also brought there, suffering from burns to 35 percent of his body, fire officials said. They were both listed in critical condition. Johnson was the mother of the two children, officials said.

Beller suffered burns to 90 percent of his body and was listed in critical condition at Mount Sinai before also being taken to Stroger. Two women, 60 and 84, were taken in fair-to-serious condition to Saint Anthony Hospital.

“My grandkids are really fighting for their life,” said Shelia Johnson, 50, whose daughter died in the fire. “But what went wrong? I really don’t know at all. It’s just sad. It’s just very sad.”

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said that while the investigation was ongoing, the fire appeared to be an arson and the death a homicide.

“We believe that it’s going to be an arson, which means it’s definitely going to be a homicide,” McCarthy said at an unrelated event on the West Side this afternoon. “That’s what I can tell you right now.”

He said it appeared to be a domestic situation, and that the arsonist had a relationship with someone in the home.

“We believe we know who the offender is, we believe we know what happened,” McCarthy said, but again cautioned that the information was preliminary as the investigation continued.

Firefighters didn’t see any flames when they arrived at the home in the 4200 block of West 21st Place around 4:30 a.m., but they found one victim on the front lawn, according to Fire District Chief Peter Van Dorpe.

The fire had blown out a window on the first floor, and the air rushing in had spread the fire through the first floor, he said.

Authorities said the fire was being investigated as an arson, and that it appears someone poured an accelerant around the apartment and possibly on the children. Relatives have told investigators that someone in the house had mental issues and had threatened to burn down the house, according to authorities, citing preliminary information.

Authorities said an empty gas can was found behind the home, but tests are still being done to determine what type of accelerant was used.

-Chicago Tribune reporting

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