Man held after blaze engulfed home as family slept
Boy (5) and his aunt killed in suspected arson attack
Published 25/04/2011 | 05:00
A MAN was being questioned by gardai last night after a five-year-old boy and his 25-year-old aunt were killed following a suspected arson attack on a family home.
Ryan O'Dwyer and his aunt Helena -- a mother of one -- were trapped upstairs when a blaze engulfed their home on Nutley Avenue in Mahon, Cork, at 3.15am yesterday.
Six other members of the O'Dwyer family -- three adults and three children -- managed to escape the fire.
Firefighters, who were quickly on the scene, brought the pair out of the burning house but both were pronounced dead on arrival at Cork University Hospital.
A 22-year-old man -- who is understood to be well known to the O'Dwyer family -- was arrested shortly after midday and was being questioned at the Bridewell garda station in Cork city on suspicion of arson.
It is understood gardai are investigating whether a firebomb was thrown through one of the windows of the home.
The other six members of the O'Dwyer family -- Helena's parents, Joe (54) and Helena (49), her five year-old daughter Courtney, her sister Dawn (21) and Dawn's two children, William (4) and Caolan (2), spent the day in hospital being treated for smoke inhalation and were expected to remain there overnight.
Ryan's distraught parents were being comforted by family.
"We are at an intensive stage of our enquiries," superintendent Barry McPolin, who is heading up the investigation, said.
"This is a very serious incident. The house is being forensically examined by our technical team and obviously the course of the investigation will be determined by their findings along with other factors.
"A car was found burnt out in the area and the scene there has also been sealed off and is being examined. Because of its proximity to the scene of the fire, we are keeping an open mind as to whether it is part of the investigation or not."
The inquiry is expected to be upgraded to a murder investigation.
It is understood the children were asleep but the adults were awake when the fire broke out, and that Helena and Ryan were trapped upstairs after she ran up to rescue him.
Despite desperate efforts by family members and neighbours to save them, they were eventually brought out by rescue services.
Local Sinn Fein councillor Chris O'Leary, who knows the family, said everyone in the community was traumatised following the deaths. The local authority three-bedroom house was entirely gutted by the fire.
An eyewitness said: "The fire took hold very quickly, there wasn't much that anyone could do. The fire brigade were here within minutes and did their best, but unfortunately it was too late for Helena and Ryan."
State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy travelled to Cork yesterday afternoon to carry out post-mortems on the two deceased.
"We are appealing for witnesses to contact either Blackrock garda station or Anglesea Street," said Supt McPolin.