The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 20, 2022 1:00 am

Arson deaths of 3 children in 1988 solved

Police ID man, but firebomb suspect died 13 months ago

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne police Wednesday identified the man who started an intense blaze that killed three children in a southeast Fort Wayne home almost 34 years ago.

There is “overwhelming evidence” to support three counts of murder against Jarvis Jefferson, but charges cannot be filed because he died of a drug overdose on Dec. 28, 2020, police said in a news release announcing closure of the cold case.

Jefferson, also known as Rohi Isreal, threw a Molotov cocktail through a home's front window at 2928 Central Drive overnight on May 21, 1988, the release said.

The firebomb caused a “massive and intense fire” that killed three of Larry Mitchell's and the late Sandra K. Mitchell's four children – Durell, 3; Genayle, 5; and Jermaine, 11 – and injured multiple family members, police said.

The children died of smoke inhalation, according to previous news reports.

Police initially thought a 19-year-old man was to blame. They believed he intended to torch another house but hit the Mitchells' home by mistake, local news media reported at the time.

The man was uncooperative, and a grand jury probe of the fire produced little, according to news reports. The suspect was later fatally shot.

The children's father has marked anniversaries of their deaths with memorial services at the site, where he has placed three crosses, three white wreaths and photos of his deceased children.

Detectives began an intensive review of the case after the children's father approached them about the case, the release said. Police didn't say when the father came forward.

Along with speaking with witnesses and former law enforcement officers, detectives analyzed evidence, statements, interviews and crime scene details, the release said.

Jefferson was identified by family members and friends, police said.

“Detectives of the Fort Wayne Police Department Cold Case and Homicide Unit [work] continuously to seek justice for victims, and answers for the victim's families,” police said.

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