NEW CASTLE (KDKA) — Investigators are treating a fatal fire at a home in Lawrence County on Thursday morning as a triple homicide.
Three men, all brothers, were found dead in the basement of the home. Family members told Pennsylvania State Police investigators that they were all mentally handicapped.
“People that were killed in a fire that was apparently started by means of arson or intentional, at this point, is our initial response at that,” Lt. Eric Hermick, of state police, said. “So we have to treat it as such until we find evidence to indicate otherwise.”
The fire started around 7:30 a.m. in the 700-block of Circle Drive in Shenango Township, but the brothers were not found dead until hours later.
A woman that lives next door identified the men as her nephews, Richard, Robert and Daniel Fombelle, all in their 50s. They lived alone in the home following the death of their mother.
Investigators say all three brothers were found close to each other in the basement. Two of them were touching each other. They didn’t have any visible injuries on them. It appears they could have suffered from smoke inhalation.
“Nothing that we can readily see,” said Lt. Hermick. “We examined them quickly here with the coroner’s office. We do have an arson dog here that is working the scene with us as well that’s hit on a few things. Right now, we’re in the process of collecting the physical evidence and processing it, and looking for some forensic evidence.”
Other relatives of the men also live on the quiet, dead-end road. It was one of those family members who spotted the flames and called 911. Another kicked in the door.
“A passerby saw a glow in the basement and went up there to try to make an attempt to enter the house. When he did, he kicked the door in, which provided oxygen to the fire and caused it to come upstairs and cause additional damage,” Lt. Hermick said.
Police roped off the home as a crime scene. Right now, the case is being handled as a triple homicide.
“We have a couple points of origin on this fire, so it’s suspicious in that sense,” Lt. Hermick said.
Forensic investigators gathered in the back of the home, scouring through evidence, looking at some possible accelerates.
“Being inside residence, various things that are flammable, we did secure items to be sent to lab to be tested,” Lt. Hermick said.
A neighbor tells KDKA that the family is asking for privacy to mourn in peace.
Pennsylvania State Police are investigating. Autopsies have been set for Friday.