Story Summary

Fatal Lawndale Fire

A house fire Saturday in the Lawndale neighborhood left a man and woman dead and injured two children.

Fire spread throughout the 2-flat in the 4200 block of 21st Street but was quickly extinguished. A 33-year old woman police identified as Tamia Johnson died in the fire. Her two children, a 5-year old boy and a 9-year old girl were rushed to the hospital.

The man suspected of starting the fire possibly pouring accelerant on some of the victim died later.

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The Cook County state’s attorney orders a complete review into how a man was able to set his girlfriend, her two kids, and himself on fire.

Nathaniel Beller, Taniya Johnson and one of their children were killed in a fire allegedly set by Beller last week in a Lawndale apartment.  Another child is badly burned.

A police report shows back on September 9th, he filled a bathtub in his Cicero apartment with gasoline and threatened to torch the children.

Cicero police managed to negotiate the safe release of his children and took the mentally ill Beller into custody. There were no charges.  Johnson failed to file a complaint.
Prosecutors with the Cook County State’s attorney decided against felony charges.  That decision is now being questioned by the Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

In a written statement released late today, Alvarez said ” I have serious questions and concerns about how this case was reviewed for felony charges relating to the Sept. 9 incident involving defendant Nathaniel Beller.  This case is a horrific tragedy involving the extremely complicated and challenging crime of domestic violence and the troubling and increasing prevalence of mental illness in criminal defendants.  We are carefully reviewing how police, prosecutors and child welfare agencies responded.

This matter will be reviewed in its entirety and if individuals in this office need to be held accountable for their judgment that will certainly occur.”

The 4-year-old girl who suffered severe burns from a fire suspected to be set by her father has died.

A spokesperson for Cook County Hospitals said the girl died around 5 p.m. today, two days after her home in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood was set on fire.

Her father, Nathaniel Beler, died from injuries from the fire. Authorities have said he was suspected of setting the fire.

Beler’s girlfriend and the child’s mother, Taniya Johnson also died. Neighbors told police they heard the couple arguing before the fire broke out.

The girl’s 9-year-old brother is still listed in very critical condition.

The mother of a man suspected of setting a deadly fire that killed his girlfriend  and critically injured their two children is speaking out.

Nathaniel Beler died of injuries he suffered in the fire at his mother’s home in the 4200 block of west 21st Place in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood Saturday.

Beler’s girlfriend Taniya Johnson died. Neighbors told police they heard the couple arguing before the fire broke out.

Police accuse Beler of setting the deadly fire but his mother Willie Beler says Taniya is responsible.

Willie Beler says she put the fire out with a blanket. Her grandchildren, ages 3 and 9, are hospitalized in critical condition with severe burns.

Beler says her son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder last year, but was taking his medication.

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

Two children are fighting for life and a woman is dead after someone started a house fire Saturday in the Lawndale neighborhood, possibly pouring accelerant on some of the victims, officials said. One other person was also burned.

Three victims remain at Stroger hospital in serious to critical condition. Fire officials believe arson to be the cause but are still trying to piece together exactly what happened.

Fire spread throughout the 2-flat in the 4200 block of 21st Street but was quickly extinguished. A 33-year old woman police identified as Tamia Johnson died in the fire. Her two children, a 5-year old boy and a 9-year old girl were rushed to the hospital with severe burns covering most of their bodies.

A 35-year old man found outside the building on the front lawn was also burned. He’s also hospitalized. Police are investigating whether he has a role in setting the fire.

Two elderly women who lived upstairs were treated for smoke inhalation.

Fire officials and Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy both say the site is now a crime scene. Police are looking into earlier reports that an accelerant, possibly a gasoline can, was found behind the burned out building.

By Andrea Darlas

WGN News

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