The deaths of eight family members — including six children found in a burning Oklahoma home — are being investigated as a murder-suicide, authorities said Friday. Police are trying to determine whether both adults were involved in the killings.
The children, who ranged in age from 1 to 13, were the victims, Broken Arrow Police Chief Brandon Berryhill said during a news conference. He did not provide their identities, ages or explain their relationships to one another except to say they were family members believed to be living in the home.
Police said both adults who live in the home were considered “primary suspects” because they were found dead in the front of the home while the children were all found in a bedroom, where the fire was contained. A police spokesman declined to say whether authorities believe the two adults were both responsible for the killings or whether it could be just one of them.
“It’s because investigators are still trying to piece together what happened with eight people dead,” police spokesman Ethan Hutchins said in an email to The Associated Press.
Hutchins also said police would not be able to identify the dead adults until the medical examiner’s office has completed its work.
The causes of death are still under investigation, but Broken Arrow Fire Department Chief Jeremy Moore said it doesn’t appear that anyone died because of the fire. Guns were recovered from the home, the police chief said.
“To arrive on scene yesterday and to see the looks on our first responders’ and firefighters’ faces just absolutely broke my heart,” Moore said Friday.
Sara Abel, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said the agency is assisting local police in tracing guns found in the home but she did not have any details about the type or number of firearms.
The fire was reported about 4 p.m. Thursday in a quiet residential area of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, 13 miles (20 kilometers) southeast of Tulsa.
The two adults found dead in the front of the house had injuries that “appeared to be criminal in nature,” Moore said.
The children were found dead in another area of the home, he said.
Kris Welch told the Tulsa World that the couple had rented the home from her for the past eight years. She said they seemed like “a regular family” but that she had gotten “some weird vibes from him.”
“He wore some T-shirts that were kind of dark and strange,” Welch told the newspaper. “And she was quiet. She hardly ever spoke, honestly. I always wondered about that.”
Neighbor Traci Treseler told the newspaper that the kids always kept to themselves. She had thought only three children lived in the house and was surprised to find out there were six, she said.
A week ago, a similar tragedy occurred in Wisconsin, where four children and two adults were found in a burning apartment in a suspected murder-suicide.
In Broken Arrow, Catelin Powers said she was driving with her children nearby when she saw a column of smoke near her house, so she drove past to investigate.
“When I got closer to the house, I saw smoke pouring out from the very top of the house, which looked like maybe the attic,” she told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Two men and a woman on her phone were standing in front of the house, Powers said, when another man emerged from the front door dragging an apparently unconscious, unresponsive woman. “Her arms were flopped to her sides,” she said.
Suspecting the woman was dead, Powers said she drove on so her children would be spared the sight.
Tragedy has struck before in Broken Arrow, which is Tulsa’s biggest suburb with almost 115,000 residents. In 2015, two teenaged brothers killed their mother, father, two younger brothers and 5-year-old sister at their home — which was about 6 miles (10 kilometers) south of Thursday’s fatal fire.
The home where the 2015 killings occurred was later demolished and the site was transformed into a community park.
Associated Press reporters Jake Bleiberg, Terry Wallace and Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.