Authorities have taken a 14-year-old boy into custody on suspicion of aggravated arson and double murder in connection with deaths of his mother and sister after a fire at their home in Hutchinson early Thursday morning, Reno County District Attorney Keith Schroeder said in a statement.
By Rick Plumlee and Amy Renee Leiker
The Wichita Eagle
The boy was arrested Thursday evening after a fire at 4 E. 19th Ave. resulted in the deaths of Audrey Vonachen, 11, Karla Vonachen, 47, Schroeder said.
Steve Vonachen, 48, the father of the children and Karla’s husband, and the 14-year-old were also in the house at the time the fire was reported about 12:15 a.m. Steve Vonachen and the boy were not injured, Schroeder told the Hutchinson News.
Investigators determined that “an accelerant was poured around several rooms on the first floor of the house and ignited,” Schroeder said in his statement.
He said charges were being prepared in the case.
Karla Vonachen died from her injuries shortly before 4 p.m. a hospital house supervisor at Via Christi Hospital St. Francis said. She had been taken to the hospital earlier in the day with critical injuries.
Audrey was declared dead at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center after the fire was extinguished early Thursday morning.
Both the mother and Audrey were thought to have sustained smoke inhalation, according to fire officials.
“While it is understandable that the public may desire more specific information about this alleged crime,” Schroeder said, “it is hoped the public will understand the need to balance the right to information with the alleged suspect’s right to a fair trial.”
He called the fire deaths “a community tragedy.”
A fire station is about a block away from the two-story house, just east of Main Street, so firefighters arrived quickly, Deputy Fire Chief Mike Miller said.
The first floor, however, was already fully engulfed in flames that were shooting out of windows, he added.
Firefighters had to hit the fire with a large amount of water before they could enter. They found Audrey and her mother together in a second-floor bedroom and brought them outside, Miller said.
Fire Chief Kim Forbes said late Thursday afternoon Hutchinson detectives and other investigators had been conducting interviews. A log for Hutchinson police reports listed the fire as an arson.
The investigative team on the scene included Wichita fire Capt. Stuart Bevis and his investigative dog Sporty; the state fire marshal; officials from the Department of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Hutchinson Police Department.