Person of interest in deadly South Chicago fire released without charges

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Thursday, August 25, 2016
Arson suspected in South Chicago fire
Residents of the city's South Chicago neighborhood mourned three young sisters and a man killed in an extra-alarm fire Tuesday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A person of interest held in connection with a "suspicious" fire that killed three young sisters and a man on Chicago's Southeast Side was released without charges, police said.

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Kirk Johnson, 56, and two sisters identified by relatives as 7-year-old Shaniyah Staples and 4-year-old Madison Watson, were found dead on the third floor of an apartment complex in the city's South Chicago neighborhood, authorities said.

Fire ripped through the three-story, courtyard apartment building in the 8100-block of South Essex Avenue early Tuesday morning. When firefighters arrived, they found the stairwells burned out and heavy fire on the second and third floors.

Residents said they had to jump to safety. One man, identified by family members as 36-year-old Michael Watson, grabbed his 3-month-old daughter Melanie Watson and lept from a window on the top floor.

Michael Watson was transported to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where he was treated for critical burns.

Melanie Watson was rushed to Comer Children's Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 2:40 a.m., the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office said. An autopsy found the baby girl died from a fall from height and carbon monoxide toxicity. Her death was ruled a homicide.

Relatives identified her as Shaniyah and Madison's sister. The two older girls were found separately, but in the same apartment, Chicago Fire Department Deputy Commissioner Arriel Gray said Tuesday.

Kirk Johnson was found in an apartment adjacent to the girls' home. An autopsy found he died of thermal injuries and carbon monoxide toxicity, the medical examiner said. His death was also ruled a homicide.

Arson investigators found accelerant in and around the building.

Police questioned two people in connection with the fire.

Police confirmed Thursday that one of those people was released without charges. The investigation is ongoing.

The apartment building failed its last inspection back in November. The building is owned by a company in Florida.

City inspectors issued several citations because they couldn't access most of the apartments to check for working smoke detectors. Inspectors also found a porch was defective or missing parts and one stairway needed repairs.

Relatives set up a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for burial services for Shaniyah, Madison and Melanie.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.