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Man suspected of setting fire that killed girlfriend, injured their kids dies

Exterior 4235 W. 21st Place which is believed have been an arsfire.  | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Exterior of 4235 W. 21st Place which is believed to have been an arson fire. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: February 1, 2013 6:17AM



The 29-year-old man who police suspect set the fire that killed his girlfriend and critically injured their two children died at Stroger Hospital on Sunday afternoon.

Police said that the man, who was critically injured in the West Side blaze, possibly doused his girlfriend and the two children with an accelerant before setting them on fire early Saturday morning.

The children, Nariya Beller, 4, and Naciere Beller, 9, remained in critical condition Sunday night at Stroger, said Marisa Kollias, hospital spokeswoman. Fire officials said Nariya was burned over her entire body and Naciere suffered burns on 35 percent of his body.

Their mother, Taniya Johnson, 33, died at Stroger Hospital on Saturday after the blaze in the first-floor unit of a building in the 4200 block of West 21st Place. After an autopsy Sunday, the Medical Examiner’s office said Johnson also had been stabbed.

Nathaniel Beller died at 12:10 p.m. Sunday, said Kollias and a representative from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.

Police sources said they think an accelerant was used to intentionally set the fire. Police found three gas cans behind the West Side home.

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said on Saturday that he thought police were dealing with a homicide that was part of a domestic dispute.

“The likelihood is it’s going to be a homicide because we believe that it is an arson,” McCarthy said.

On Sunday, police continued to investigate the fire.

Ron Averyhart, 53, who lives next door to the building where the fire occurred, described Nariya and Naciere as “fun-loving and well-mannered.”

After hearing the fire and the sound of fire trucks Saturday morning, he ran out of the building with coats for his aunt and cousin, who were evacuated from the building.

Johnson’s family said that Johnson, of the 4500 block of West Harrison, and the children were visiting the children’s father and other relatives in the 21st Place apartment . Johnson and her children were found near the Christmas tree; Beller was found in front of the building. Firefighters responded to the scene at 4:40 a.m. Saturday.

A family living in the second-floor unit escaped without injury. Joyce Rogers, 59, said Sunday morning that she and her mother Sally Jordan, 84, were taken to St. Anthony’s Hospital on Saturday but were not admitted. They and other family members evacuated from the building after smelling smoke. Their home was destroyed, she said.

“We were treated and released,” Rogers said. “We’re OK.”

Contributing:Frank Main, Francine Knowles, Becky Schlickerman



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