CHESTER - A man faces four counts of first-degree murder and life in prison on charges related to a house fire that killed four children in the Randolph County community of Percy early Friday morning.
Derrick J. Twardoski was charged Friday afternoon by Randolph County State's Attorney Jeremy Walker in the deaths of Ethan Owen, 12, Kailey Owen, 9, and 5-year-old twins Brandon and Landon Owen.
The children were killed in a house fire authorities believe Twardoski set at about 2 a.m. Friday. He is in custody at the Randolph County Jail in Chester and will have a first court appearance Monday.
A fifth child, as well as several adults, were able to escape the fire, Walker said, although he did not release the names of survivors over privacy concerns.
Multiple fire departments responded to the scene Friday morning. The house is located in the 800 block of West Almond Street in Percy.
Shirley Hornbostel, who lives about two houses away from the home, said she heard the sirens this morning and looked outside.
"I looked out my window and it was just in flames," she said. "Flames were coming out the roof and windows."
Hornbostel said the family moved into the home in November. The father is a truck driver. They lived in the home with five children, including twins who were about 4 or 5 years old, she said.
Hornbostel said the children were often be riding their bikes in the street and playing in the yard, always under close supervision of one of their parents. The parents even put a plastic "Slow!" sign in the street to warn drivers that children were at play.
"We're all shook up," said another longtime neighbor, Paul Rubach, 85.
Hornbostel said the parents went to the hospital with a boy who suffered smoke inhalation. Hornbostel talked with the children's grandmother, who was outside on the street as investigators sifted through the rubble.
"I felt like I owed her my sympathy," Hornbostel said. "She said four of my grandchildren are gone."
The grandmother told neighbors that investigators were looking at arson as a possibility because a gas can was found in the yard and the tires on two vehicles had been slashed.
Officials declined to comment on such rumors during the news conference.