Four children ranging in age from 5 to 11, at least two of whom appeared to have been sexually assaulted, were found dead in a closet Saturday in a house apparently set ablaze by an arsonist, police said.
No one was charged or under arrest, but investigators collected samples of bodily fluids and hair from Bernon Howery - father of three of the children and a Kankakee County Board member - and from the brother of the children's mother, who lived in the house, police Lt. William Cantrell said."They were on or about the premises shortly before the fire," which was reported at 1:07 a.m., Cantrell said. "We wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't take a close look at them."
Both men "cooperated to the utmost with the police department," Cantrell said.
Investigators searched for traces of an accelerant or other evidence in an effort to pinpoint the cause of the blaze, Police Chief Timothy Nugent said. Fire investigators said the blaze began in at least two locations, leading to the conclusion that arson was the likely cause.
"This is considered to be an aggravated arson and murder case," Nugent said. "When firefighters arrived, the house was filled with smoke. The children were found in an upstairs closet. All were deceased."
The closet had a window that Cantrell said easily could have been broken or opened had the children been seeking to escape the burning house.
"We don't know if they were unconscious. Were they placed in the closet, or did they go there to seek refuge?" Cantrell said.