NORTHGLENN, Colo. (CBS4) – Investigators in Northglenn say they suspect that before a fire broke out at a duplex Thursday morning, a man assaulted his wife and children in their home.
Police said they first became aware of a situation involving the suspect, William Johnson, overnight after a woman called police to report that her ex-husband was driving through the grass. She said he may be heading back to a home in Northglenn. She requested that officers check on her children.
Northglenn officers got a call through dispatch reports requesting assistance in locating his vehicle. That led officers to the car which was near the duplex, located on the 11000 block of York Street.
When officers stopped Johnson, they said he was cooperative and the children inside the vehicle did not appear to have been harmed. At the time of the stop, Aurora Police advised Northglenn officers they didn’t have any charges on Johnson and as Northglenn didn’t have any charges on him, he was released.
Less than two hours later, at 4:20 a.m., officers responded to the duplex in the 11000 block of York Street. Officers found a woman outside the home. She said Johnson had assaulted her and was inside the home and possibly assaulting the children.
“She’s screaming that he’s killing her children. That he set the fire. And that the children are locked inside,” said neighbor Jeanne Sparkman. “She was just screaming, ‘He’s killed my children, all because I didn’t want to be with him.'”
Moments after police arrived, a fire also started in the home. It was described by officers as a “flash fire.” Two officers tried immediately to get inside but they were turned back because of the intense smoke inside.
Watch the complete news conference by authorities late Thursday morning about the crime.
“The female told police that Mr. Johnson was inside the residence assaulting his children. Officers forced entry into a barricaded front door after seeing a flash fire erupt. Officers attempted to rescue the occupants of the home, but were forced back by heavy smoke and inhalation,” Northglenn police spokesman Commander Jeremy Sloan said. “There was a heavy fortified or barricaded door. It looked like furniture was pushed behind the door.”
Northglenn firefighters arrived shortly afterwards — at about 4:30 a.m.
“Based on the actions and the information from the police officers on scene, we were able to determine our victims were upstairs,” Northglenn fire spokesman Lt. John Maes said. “We were able to to quickly get to that point and get them outside to safety.”
Firefighters had to try to get in the home and past furniture which had apparently been stacked up to block the door. They found Johnson and the two children unconscious. All three were taken to the hospital.
“Each individual were in their own bedrooms as far as we could tell,” said Northglenn Fire Lt. John Maes.
Neighbors described a chaotic scene outside the home.
“I heard this screaming and then I walked out and I saw all the lights,” said neighbor Kim Pugh. “All she said was, ‘Get my kids outta there,’ that’s all she said. But it was a blood curdling scream at 5 o’clock in the morning.”
“And then they bring the daughter out and they lay her on the ground and they try to resuscitate her and they put her in an ambulance,” said Sparkman.
Two Northglenn police officers were also hospitalized with smoke inhalation after the firefight.
Johnson was in critical condition and was in police custody. He is being investigated for two counts of attempted homicide, domestic violence and assault.
The two children were taken to Children’s Hospital and were in critical condition as of Thursday evening.
Johnson’s ex-wife was released from the hospital. Sparkman said she looked like she had been badly beaten.
“She had blood running down her face, her eye was almost closed. She said he smashed her head against the wall,” said Sparkman.
A dog that lived at the home was taken to a vet after the fire.