Camilla Foulks was getting counseling on how to be a better parent. But witnesses said she was at a bar when her bungalow caught fire, killing her three children and five others that she left home alone.
The children, all related, ranged in age from 5 months to 7 years. An 8-year-old girl escaped unharmed.Police Chief Don Strom said the children's parents had left them with Foulks overnight, believing the 25-year-old single mother would babysit them.
But Foulks left home about two hours before the fire was reported Sunday and returned minutes after authorities arrived to find no adults present at the one-story house, Strom said. Witnesses told police she had been at a bar.
"We have several reports to that effect," Strom said. "We have confirmed some of those, and we're continuing to investigate other potential witnesses that might have similar information."
The cause of the fire was not yet known. It apparently started in a bedroom at the front of the wood house, which sits on a quiet, tree-lined street in this city about 100 miles southeast of St. Louis. There were working smoke detectors in each of the three bedrooms and in the hall, authorities said.
After the blaze was extinguished, yellow police tape ringed the house and its three front windows were boarded up. Two box springs and a bed frame - all charred - lay in the front yard.
State's Attorney Mike Wepsiec said it was too early to say if charges were likely.
Foulks just moved in Wednesday. On Friday, firefighters responded to a minor kitchen fire, said Susan Metcalf, director of Good Samaritan Ministries, which manages the house for the federal government.
Foulks had been attending an adult education course at Southern Illinois University, Metcalf said. Foulks came to the agency after her mobile home was closed for code violations.