Father arrested after New Orleans house fire killed his three children, police say

Oct 18, 2023, 8:07 AM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The father of three children who died in an overnight house fire in New Orleans was arrested Wednesday and faces charges of second-degree murder and aggravated cruelty to juveniles, police said.

The victims in the fire that was reported around midnight Tuesday included a 3-year-old boy who was found dead in the eastern New Orleans home. A 5-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy were rescued but died later at a hospital.

The father, Joseph Washington, 29, was arrested Wednesday afternoon.

Washington’s car had been found Wednesday morning in the neighboring city of Gretna, partially submerged in the Mississippi River.

New Orleans police and U.S. marshals spotted him in another vehicle Wednesday afternoon on Interstate 610 in New Orleans, according to a police news release. He got out of the car and attempted to escape by leaping from an interstate ramp, according to officials at a Wednesday news conference. Before being jailed, Washington was taken to a hospital for treatment of unspecified injuries, police said. Online records weren’t available Wednesday afternoon and it was unclear if he had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

Police said the children’s mother called 911 shortly before midnight Tuesday saying that their father planned to burn the house down. The mother was not at home at the time. Moments later, the fire was reported.

As of Wednesday afternoon, investigators were still working to determine what was used to start the fire. The identities of the mother and children have not been released. Surveillance video obtained by local news outlets shows a man leaving the house shortly before flames engulf much of the residence.

Interim police chief Anne Kirkpatrick said the fire deaths were a “horrific” example of domestic violence. Dr. Jennifer Avegno, who was also at the news conference, said “Violence and homicide is a public health problem.”

“If we don’t fix the root causes, we’re going to keep having these,” she said.

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