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September 29, 1999
Blaze That Killed Three Children and Father Was Arson, Say Police
A P Kamath
A few days ago, the Etwaroo family had joined their Guyanese neighbors in New York in a yagna. Like most Guyanese Hindu immigrants, the Etwaroos took immense pride in their roots and religion.
On Tuesday morning, as the Etwaroo house was burnt down, claiming the life of three children, and their father, horrified neighbors could not but overlook that one of the few objects not destroyed were a sari and two religious flags.
But just as the community was getting ready for the funeral of the four, the police had classified the fire as arson, and were getting ready to seek help from the surviving member of the family, Branda Etwaroo, who was being treated for shock in a city hospital.
The blaze that engulfed the two-story frame house, has been classified as arson by the police who say that they have no clue who perpetrated the crime.
"We believe it was started with gasoline. We believe someone spread gasoline up the stairway and we believe that's why it started so quickly and it was such a large body of fire when we got there," said Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said fire marshals told him the fire started in the vestibule at the bottom of the stairs and that an accelerant was used.
"When I arrived at the scene I noticed there was a strong odor of gasoline," he said.
At the Laxmi Mandir and other Guyanese-visited Hindu temples in Queens and Brooklyn a whispering campaign has begun.
Throughout Monday, police motored around the neighborhood, asking people for tips, reminding them that their calls to the Crime Stoppers unit would be kept secret.
Meanwhile, friends of the family cautioned against sensationalizing the tragedy.
"We do not know the full story," said a family friend. "Let us not rush into judgment."
Hardeo Etwaroo, 39, was burnt heavily when he put a neighbor's ladder next to the rear window in a vain to save his children. He died about eight hours after the fire destroyed the home where his family had lived for the past five years.
His three children, Felicia, 14, Alex, 7, and Dushan, 4, were pronounced dead at the scene of the fire.
Brandra Etwaroo, 31, the children's mother, escaped injuries. Tony Nerain, Etwaroo's brother-in-law who was visiting the family, was burned on both arms, officials said.
Cries for help, smoke and flames shooting from the windows roused sleeping neighbors in the quiet block of single-family homes.
Describing what firefighters found inside the gutted house, the fire department source said, "Alex and Anthony [identified by family friends as Dushan] were found embracing each other under a mattress on the second floor. Felicia was in the same room."
Sarah LaRosa, who lives in an apartment building five doors away, said she was awakened by a woman screaming in the backyard, "Fire! Fire!"
She believes the woman was Brandra Etwaroo. "I saw the father standing on the roof all black. He was burnt," she said. "He said, 'Help me. Help me.' He had glass coming out of his eyes and his head.... It's really sad."
Hardeo Etwaroo, who worked for a bank in New York, was planning to go to Trinidad with his family and start a cosmetic business.
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