Port Richmond, Staten Island, New York C.J. Jones was once the “man of the house”, caring for his younger siblings in an attempt to assist his mother who worked as a security guard at Macy’s. Friends and family state C.J. was a troublemaker when he was younger but that he’d grown out of it. It now seems as though that wasn’t exactly the case – C.J. may have just suppressed whatever issues he had brewing deep inside. And the warning signs he exhibited weren’t exactly ignored but rather may not have been taken as seriously as they should have been. Now it’s too late. The actions of this 14-year-old “man of the house” have now resonated across the country and left a trail of blood and embers in his wake.
Setting fire to bits of paper outside the family’s Staten Island apartment while his siblings rode their bicycles sipping juice, nothing really seemed abnormal about this particular evening. At least C.J. was playing pyro outside this time. He’d allegedly had a rough summer of getting busted for setting fire to things inside. His summer classes ended abruptly when he was caught setting fire to things in the bathroom. His mother allegedly clashed with him after he was caught setting fire to a towel inside their apartment. And he’d recently been ousted from the public pool for setting fire there as well. Although neighbors witnessed his little displays, none seemed to think C.J.’s fascination or preoccupation with fire would escalate to an extreme that still seems so unfathomable.
Firefighters responded to a three-alarm fire at the family’s apartment around 4:15am – mere hours after the children had been outside. A fire that ended up claiming the lives of the five who resided there: Brittany (10), Melony (7), Jermaine (2), their 33-year-old mother Leisha, and C.J.
Rescue workers worked through a wall of flames – fire that was later suspected as being started at the entrance of the apartment perhaps as a way to thwart any attempt of this family escaping (or at least a couple of them) and fire crews being able to recover the bodies easily. Obviously this observation was after the fact, and the cause of the fire has yet to be released. Other than it was intentional. At first glance, it’d seem as though C.J.’s pyro fascination may have gotten out of control, resulting in the devastating death of he and his entire family.
I recall listening to one of my fire instructors discuss one particular call that led him to make the decision to no longer don the heavy gloves firefighters typically wear. His current gloves were lambskin and thin. There’s something about not being able to distinguish between feeling a piece of furniture on the floor from a child, that assisted in his decision to change-up his gear. That, and a huge amount of counselling. It’s impossible to see clearly in a fire, if at all. And no amount of training can ever prepare a rescue worker for some of the casualties on-scene. There’s no doubt the firefighters prepared themselves as much as humanly possible prior to entering the apartment knowing they were on a rescue mission but little could prepare them for exactly what they discovered.
Jermaine, the two-year-old brother was found close to his two sisters and his mother. He was face down but apparently exhibiting signs of life. He was rushed to the hospital but died of smoke inhalation. Leisha, the children’s mother was also found face down but apparently was not showing signs consistent with life. And close-by were the two sisters, in the living room, who clearly were beyond any life-saving efforts. Their throats had been slashed.
C.J., the 14-year-old “man of the house” allegedly grabbed his mother’s straight-edge razor from her hairdressing kit and murdered his two siblings and set fire near the entrance before retreating to a separate room in the back of the residence and slitting his own throat. Rescue workers found the razor under his body.
School officials had urged Ms. Jones to seek psychiatric counseling for her son and it’s stated by friends and neighbors close to this family that she’d been stressing out over his latest unusual behaviors. But at what point do you halt all other activities and realize these “patterns” have the propensity to become deadly. Of course we all know fire kills – but as a parent, there has to be the awareness coupled with denial. Add to it the stress of being a single-parent of 4, having a full-time job, and just trying to make it through each day with a little bit of sanity.
Well, C.J. made sure his immediate family would no longer suffer through the stress of his behavioral issues by eliminating everyone’s existence. But he certainly didn’t consider the turmoil and grief his actions left for the extended family such as his grandmother who’s still grappling to wrap her mind around the news D.C. police delivered her. Still unable to reach the NYPD to get further details, Marcia Anderson, Leisha’s mother, is left with the memory of her eldest grandchild reaching out, hugging and touching her face upon their last visit, with his words, “Grandma, you okay?” repeating over and over in her head.
It’s speculated, by virtue of the positioning of Ms. Jones’ body, she died while attempting to reach help. It serves no use thinking the deaths of these five were quick and painless and that the mother who must have struggled as much with her son as he did himself, died knowing she was unable to protect all of them from the demons that lurked beneath the surface.