Missouri

Man sets fire to building, kills 6 children

March 12, 1999
St. Louis, Missouri
Nevelyn Stokes (23) sets fire to an apartment building, killing six children under the age of 9

Earlier in the evening, Stokes was physically assaulted by a man and woman he encountered on the street. Allegedly, Stokes had robbed the woman the month before and the assault was in retribution. Stokes then followed the woman to her apartment building, left to obtain a gallon of gasoline, and started a fire outside a second floor back porch door. He later admitted to starting the fire but claimed he believed the building was empty.

Although the woman he had followed was not in the building at the time of the fire, three adults and six children were. Two of the adults, ages 19 and 20 were able to escape the burning building while another adult, a 20-year-old woman and mother of two of the children, attempted to reach the children on the third floor but was blocked by flames. She eventually escaped the building, breaking her leg in the process.

Firefighters arrived on the scene, though they were also unable to use the stairs to reach the third floor and instead had to use ladders, which delayed the rescue efforts and thus prevented them from saving the children. The bodies of the children were found in a closet where they had apparently attempted to escape the fire. The victims were: Amber Polk (6 months), Briana Stanford (2), Forise Dexter Nowden (5), Jason Wordlaw (6), Darrell Howell (8), and Danielle Williams (9).

Because the courts could not prove Stokes had intended to kill the children, he was found guilty of five counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson resulting in injury or death, and sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2001. In 2016, Stokes attempted to petition for an early release, claiming he was a “victim of a caption code block system that the HAARP [High Frequency Action Auroral Research Program, which he claimed ‘used the Earth’s ionosphere to control individuals and the weather through microwaves’] … owns.” In a previous petition, Stokes claimed the arson was a result of his willing discontinuation of his psychiatric medications, believing they were producing negative effects. Both petitions were denied.

Sources:
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI EASTERN DIVISION. NEVELYN STOKES, Petitioner, v. SENATOR STEVENS, Respondent. No. 4:16-CV-1837 SNLJ. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/USCOURTS-moed-4_16-cv-01837/pdf/USCOURTS-moed-4_16-cv-01837-0.pdf
O’Neil, Tim. “Woman thinks her son invited trouble.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. March 16, 1999
Pierce, Rick. “Grief counselors help pupils discuss deaths of six children in fire.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. March 16, 1999
Brian, Bill and Williams, Lance. “Police say fire suspect eyed revenge.”

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