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Flora Fire: Family shares memories of four sisters killed in fire

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Posted at 4:50 PM, May 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-21 19:12:33-04

FLORA — It’s been two and a half years since a deadly fire — which state police say was intentionally set — killed four little girls in Flora.

For the first time since their death, family members of Keyana Davis, 11, Keyara Phillips, 9, Kerrielle McDonald, 7, and Kionnie Welch, 5, are sharing memories and what the girls were doing in the days before the tragedy that would change their lives forever.

PHOTOS | Family shares new photos of Flora sisters

Jackie Partlow remembers her nieces as a bright light in their family with infectious smiles that brightened the day of anyone they ever came in contact with.

“They were beautiful, they were happy, they were always happy — they loved life,” Partlow said. “They played all the time, they waved at people all the time they were just very lovable little girls.”

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Those infectious smiles suited them well in their favorite sport: Cheerleading.

“We all spent a lot of days a week at cheerleading practice,” Partlow said.

The girls were on a cheerleading squad called the "Lafayette Diamonds." They loved everything about cheering and would practice their routines on the front porch of the home for anyone who would watch, especially their Aunt Jackie.

“I’d go to visit them, and they were excited to show me that they got it,” Partlow said. “I’d always watch them do their routines on the front porch… they worked hard at it, they loved it.”

The girls also loved their Aunt Jackie’s spaghetti and fried chicken, her swimming pool and spending as much time as they could at her home in Delphi.

“Summer’s coming and I’m redoing my pool. They stayed in my pool, now that life is gone. I get in my pool with my grandkids when they visit but those girls loved coming to my house, swimming and eating Aunt Jackie’s food and playing in the yard with my dogs and juts being free.”

And that was exactly what the girls were doing in the days before the tragedy, doing two of their favorite things: spending time at Aunt Jackie’s house and cheerleading.

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Two days earlier, the girls had a cheerleading competition in South Bend.

The night before the cheerleading competition the girls spent with their Aunt Jackie.

“We had to get their hair and we had to get their bows and their makeup and stuff together,” Partlow said. “They were just excited, they were trying on their uniforms and they were so excited.”

Partlow was also there for that competition, cheering them on. She remembers how beautiful they were and how excited and full of life they were during the competition.

“Kerrielle especially, she was the one who threw the kiss at the end of the finale that day,” Partlow said.

Her last memory of her nieces was helping their mother carry the sleeping girls inside after the long drive home from South Bend.

“That was the last time…. the last time I saw them alive, I helped her put them to bed,” Partlow said through tears.

Family members are frustrated that two years later they still don’t have any answers about what really happened that November morning.

“You haven’t been where we’ve been just seeing those girls playing and having a great time," Partlow said. The people that don’t know them, all they know now is that they’re gone, and we have no answers.”

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The girls' aunt Leslie Anderson says she prays that sharing more of the girls' story will help encourage someone to come forward.

"To the person that might know something, first of all look at the news and look at these four babies," Anderson said. "Do the right thing. Just do the ring thing and your life will be better by doing the right thing. If you know the truth, tell it."

Indiana State Police say the investigation into the Flora Fire remains an active case and they are still asking anyone who may have any information to come forward.

READ | One year later: No arrest in deadly Flora fire that claimed the lives of four young sisters

Below is an outline of everything we know about the case and the investigation up until this point.

The Fire
On the morning of Nov. 21, 2016 at around 4 a.m. firefighters were called to the 100 block of E. Columbia Street where a two-story home had gone up in flames.

Four sisters, Keyana, Keyara, Kerrielle and Kionne were all killed in the fire. Their mother, Gaylin Rose, was injured trying to rescue them and was flown to the hospital with serious injuries. She was released several days later.

Two officers were also injured.

Carroll County Sheriff’s Deputy Drew Yoder, one of the first on the scene, rushed into the home trying to rescue the girls. After multiple failed attempts, he was pulled out of the home by Flora Police Officer Josh Disinger.

Deputy Yoder suffered critical injuries and smoke inhalation and was flown to the hospital where he was hooked to a ventilator for several days. Officer Disinger was treated and released.

At the time, the cause of the fire could not be determined because of the extent of damage to the home. The fire was believed to have started behind a fridge in the kitchen and K-9 units were brought in to search for possible accelerants, but none were found. No foul play was suspected.

From Tragedy to Murder
It wasn’t until more than two months later on Jan. 28, 2017, that the investigators began looking in another direction. Indiana State Police re-classified the fire as arson, saying it was intentionally set and that accelerants were found in “multiple” locations throughout the structure.

At that time, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security established a reward fund for information leading to an arrest in the case.

Several months passed in early 2017 without any answers. Indiana State Police said in June, after repeated inquiries from the media, that they were questioning “persons of interest” in the investigation but did not have any suspects in the case.

Less than two weeks later, on June 23, Dennis Randle, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security Fire Investigator assigned to the Flora fire case resigned after questions arose regarding the specific details of the arson ruling.

READ | ISP questioning 'persons of interest' in fatal Flora fire

That same day, arson investigators amended their findings, saying accelerants were only found in one room of the home — but retained the arson classification.

On Oct. 26, 2017, the NAACP joined the family of Flora fire victims at a press conference to announce they would also be joining the investigation.

“The NAACP is just getting involved but based on information we have, it appears the investigation has been bungled in some kind of way,” Barbara Bolling, member of the NAACP National Board of Directors said that morning. “There are people out there who know and it smells. I know we’re just getting started here, but it smells of a cover-up.”

READ | NAACP involved in Flora fire investigation

Indiana State Police held a press conference later that day to address the NAACP’s comments and concerns.

“Even the notion that there would be even the perception of a cover-up in regard to an investigation involving our little girls is not only unsubstantiated but strikes me at the core of who I am and the agency I represent,” ISP Supt. Doug Carter said to the media. “I’d give my life to find out who killed those little girls.”

READ | ISP Supt. Doug Carter on Flora Fire: 'I'd give my life to find out who killed those little girls'

On November 11, nearly a year after the deadly fire, Carroll County Prosecutor Robert Ives announced he would be stepping down from his position at the end of the year — leaving one of Carroll County’s biggest cases unsolved. Days later, on November 14, Flora Fire Chief Adam Randle resigned from his position.

READ | Carroll County prosecutor to step down amidst two high profile unsolved cases | Chief of Flora Fire Department steps down despite unsolved deaths of four girls

Review Requested
In December 2017, Indiana State Police requested a peer review of the investigation from the Indianapolis Fire Department.

The peer review by IFD examined witness reports of people present at the time of the fire, including firefighters, police and witnesses. Members of an IFD Fire Investigation Section also conducted a physical examination of the scene in Flora.

They released their findings on Jan. 31, 2018, confirming that the fire was intentionally set.

READ | IFD conducting review of Fatal Flora fire

A $5,000 reward is still being offered for any information in connection with the deadly incident.

Indiana State Police say the investigation into the Flora fire remains an active case and they are still asking anyone who may have any information to come forward.

Anyone with information regarding the case should call 1-800-382-4628. Callers may remain anonymous. More information about the victims and the reward is available at this link.