CAMDEN, S.C. (WIS) - Police are continuing to investigate a deadly house fire on Lyttleton Street in Camden that left two people dead. Officials say it has now been ruled as a homicide.
Avery Smullen and Jeannette Richardson died after police say Richardson set a pile of clothes on fire in her bedroom and the fire spread to the rest of the house.
Avery’s wife and Richardson’s aunt, Julia Smullen, survived the fire.
“It hurts me to come in here,” Julia Smullen said, as she walked through the remains of the house.
All she was able to salvage is a few papers and her husband’s bibles.
Julia Smullen told WIS she shared the home with her husband and Richardson, who she cared for. Smullen said she left the home on Friday night to grab her purse from her car and saw the smoke coming from her niece’s room. She said she did everything in her power to save her husband and niece that night, but she wasn’t able to get them out.
“Tears, sadness, hurt,” Smullen said when asked how she feels looking at the home. “I could never live here again.”
She said Richardson suffered from schizophrenia, as well as other mental health illnesses, and that she was upset after Smullen had told her that after four years of living with her it was time for Richardson to move into a facility.
“She said please, please, please don’t put me there and I said I have to because I have no one else to take you,” Smullen said.
Just hours later, Smullen said she saw smoke coming from her niece’s room.
“I opened the door and shoosh,” Smullen said as she described the smoke hitting her face. She said she ran into her bedroom where her husband was asleep. She said she woke him up and he turned around to get dressed. She then ran outside.
“I ran, and I took the shovel and busted that window,” Smullen said. “I was going back in to get my husband.”
She said a neighbor held her from going back into the house.
Officials said Richardson was found dead in her room by firefighters. Crews rescued Smullen from another room of the house, but he died a short time later. Officials said they both died of smoke inhalation, but they consider Smullen’s death a homicide.
“I still cry because it’s unbelievable,” Smullen said. “I thought I was waking up in a nightmare.”
Surveillance cameras in the Smullen home showed Richardson gathering clothes into a pile and lighting them on fire.
“I lost my husband, and I lost my niece because of her mental illness. She had a mental problem,” Smullen said.
Smullen said so little survived.
“We were looking for that cat right there, we thought she got burned,” Smullen said.
But she’s thankful for what survived in the face of unimaginable loss.
“That’s going to be my buddy right there for a long time,” Smullen said.
Smullen said funeral services for her husband and niece will be held on Sunday.
Investigators made clear this deadly house fire was in no way connected to another deadly house fire that happened just down the street in January.