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Alleged arsonist Nathaniel Beller threatened to burn kids months ago

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Updated: February 4, 2013 2:51PM

An alleged arsonist accused of setting a fire that killed his girlfriend and daughter on the West Side last week threatened almost exactly the same deed just three months ago.

Nathaniel Beller filled his bathtub with gasoline and threatened to torch his 4-year-old daughter Neriyah and 9-year-old son Naciere during a tense standoff with Cicero Police on Sept. 9, but neither police nor the Cook County State’s Attorney charged him.

Quickly freed after a psychiatric evaluation, the career criminal allegedly made good on his chilling threat at his mom’s house Saturday. Chicago Police say the mentally ill 29-year-old poured an accelerant on both children and their mother, Taniya Johnson, then started a fire that claimed the lives of Neriyah and Johnson as well as his own.

The troubling new details about how authorities handled Beller’s case emerged Wednesday as his orphaned son continued to fight for his life at Stroger Hospital with burns covering 35 percent of his body.

According to a Cicero Police report, Johnson — who had been beaten by Beller — dialed 911 from her workplace on the afternoon of Sept. 9, telling police that a suicidal Beller was threatening to kill their kids.

Officers arriving at Johnson’s apartment in the 4900 block of West 14th Street heard screaming children, smelled gas and found a distraught Beller barricaded inside, claiming that his girlfriend had cheated on him.

A lieutenant “was advised by Nathaniel Beller that he had put gasoline throughout the apartment and would kill himself and children if we attempted to come in,” the report states.

Though Beller released the children unharmed to police during a fraught negotiation — and later claimed he had never planned to hurt them — police found a cigarette lighter and his bathtub filled with gas when they forced their way in and arrested him.

Worse still, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times that Naciere’s socks were soaked with gasoline — a sign that he had likely been placed in the tub filled with fuel.

That detail wasn’t in the police report and was disputed Wednesday by Cicero Police Supt. Bernard Harrison, who defended his department’s handling of the case and said efforts to seek felony charges of unlawful restraint against Beller were rejected by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office.

Andy Conklin, a spokesman for the Cook County State’s Attorney office, confirmed that prosecutors declined to file felony charges, in part because Johnson refused to sign a criminal complaint. He declined further explanation of why Beller wasn’t charged.

Harrison said detectives prepared a misdemeanor arrest warrant but never had it signed by a judge. They instead issued a stop order, which would have resulted in Beller’s detention had police stopped him in the street, Harrison said.

Beller was facing felony charges in an unrelated alleged attack on Chicago Police at the time of his death and might have been taken back into custody at a November court hearing if Cicero officers had had the warrant signed by a judge.

Cicero spokesman Ray Hanania described Saturday’s fatal blaze as a “tragedy,” but he insisted that Cicero Police “did everything by the book — we did everything we could . . . we tried to put him away.”

Cicero officials noted that the children were quizzed by specialists trained to give victim-sensitive interviews; that they were removed from Beller’s care by the state; that Beller was sent for a psychiatric evaluation at McNeal Hospital, and that it ultimately was up to prosecutors to decide whether to bring felony charges.

But cops and the state’s attorney aren’t the only people facing tough questions about how and why Beller was able to get close enough to his family to kill last week.

After the September incident in Cicero, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had removed the children from their parents’ care and placed them in foster care. Now DCFS is investigating an allegation of neglect against that foster parent, DCFS spokesman Dave Clarkin said. The foster parent may have violated a juvenile court judge’s order by allowing Beller to visit the children without the supervision of a social worker Friday night.

Beller was staying overnight at his mother’s home in the 4200 block of West 21st Place in Chicago where he allegedly started the fire.

His mother, Willie Beller, claimed earlier this week that Johnson started the blaze — an account that investigators aren’t buying, given her son’s history.

Contributing: Becky Schlikerman

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