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October 1, 1999
What happened that night?
Alan Kravitz in New York
For over an hour, two dozen men and women chanted 'Ram Naam' and bhajans on Thursday night in front of a house destroyed by arson fire in which an immigrant father and three children died on Monday.
Even as the prayers were going on, investigators were confirming that Felicia Etwaroo, the 14-year-old girl killed in the fire, had a broken nose and a skull fracture.
Although the fire eventually caused her death, Felicia had been beaten up, police said. Initially, they suspected that her 24-year-old boyfriend, with whom she constantly argued, might have been involved in the arson. But now police say they have heard from many of Felicia's friends that her father abused her physically and demanded that she terminated her romantic relationship with the older man.
"Indian girls don't go out on dates," he had reportedly warned his daughter. The members of the Etwaroo family, which migrated from Guyana, were devout Hindus. Only the mother has survived the arson but the police have to wait for a day or two to talk to her about what happened on the night of the arson.
The discovery of the girl's injuries has detectives, who originally zeroed on the boyfriend as a possible suspect, refocusing their investigation on the family. Detectives want to know more about the father Hardeo, 39, who, according to the neighbors, went back into the burning house to rescue his children even though he was badly burnt.
His wife, who told the police she jumped from the second floor, will be questioned at length. Branda Etwaroo, who worked at a roti shop that she and her husband owned, remained in a serious condition yesterday in Long Island Jewish Medical Center. The police spoke to her for just about 10 minutes but would not reveal anything about the visit.
On Tuesday night, police tracked down the boyfriend, questioned him for several hours and then released him. Police said they became interested in the boyfriend after finding allegations in Felicia's diary that he may have abused her. The police would not reveal his name. Though he has not completely been eliminated as a suspect, he offered an alibi that prompted the detectives to look for other suspects.
Sources say investigators have talked to the mother's brother. He was arrested last week for allegedly setting fire to a car given to his girlfriend by another man. But he too has claimed an alibi.
Meanwhile, police sources were unable to say yesterday how Felicia sustained the skull fracture. Fire Department sources speculated her head injuries occurred before the fire while some police also said it was possible Felicia's skull was fractured by falling debris or during firefighting operations.
Firefighters found the body of the 14-year-old girl in a second-floor bedroom alongside her brothers, Alex, 7, and Dushan, also known as Anthony, 4.
Meanwhile, as Hardeo Etwaroo's relatives grieved together yesterday at his brother's home, they reacted with anger and sadness when a reporter asked about the fire.
"Who was in the house last?" said Hardeo's mother.
"I lost my son and grandchildren. Get the survivor and ask him?" She did not elaborate.
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