FLORA, Ind. - When you return to Flora and to the house on E. Columbia Street, it is hard to believe six months have passed since four young sisters were killed in a house fire intentionally set in November.
Crime scene tape still dangles around the home. The windows are boarded up. Ash and soot cover the roof. And stuffed animals lay on the front porch. These are all reminders of the little girls lost in the big fire.
Crews were dispatched to the fire in the 100 block of East Columbia Street around 4 a.m. on November 21st. State police said Keyana Davis, 11, Keyara Phillips, 9, Kerriele McDonald, 7, and Konnie Welch, 5, were trapped inside the home when they arrived. They died as a result.
Their mother, Gaylin Rose, was airlifted to Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis.
Breaking her silence
Rose has chosen to speak out for the first time about what happened with FOX59's Aishah Hasnie. She said she is breaking her silence, because others have been silent for too long.
"What were the last six months like for you?" asked Hasnie.
Rose is quiet and then she softly answers, "It's hard. I mean, it's not the same."
She said she takes things day by day. She just started a new job. She said she misses her daughters so much.
She's been hidden away, shielded by her family, as she comes to grips with losing her daughters.
The pictures she shows us don't do it justice; the doting mother and the giggly girls.
Now there is only quiet wherever Rose goes.
"It just seems like it’s never going to be the same without my babies."
They were her entire world.
Keyana was the oldest. She loved sports. Keyara was the quiet and sweet one. Then came Kerriele, who Rose said wanted to be just like her eldest sister. And Konnie was mommy's baby.
"They loved life. They loved sports. They loved dancing," said Rose.
All four girls were members of the Lafayette Diamonds Cheer team. They just competed in a major competition a few days before the fire.
"I worked very, very hard for them cheerleading outfits. I mean I worked from sun up till sun down. I called family. Man, I knew they had to get them cheerleading outfits, because if they didn't, man I don't know," smiled Rose. "They loved it. They loved practice. They loved their coach. They loved to get off the bus knowing that they were going to cheerleading practice on Tuesday."
Hasnie asked if Rose remembered much from the night of the fire.
"Yeah," replied Rose.
She said the family of five spend the day grocery shopping. Then they came home, ate dinner, and she sent the girls to bed around 10 pm.
The last words Rose remembers hearing from the girls are the usual "goodnight", "love you" and "see you in the morning."
Everyone was asleep; the girls were upstairs and Rose was in her bedroom on the main floor. Until, Rose said, intense smoke woke her up.
"The whole entire house was full of smoke. Couldn’t really see," Rose said. "I pretty much tried to save my babies by running up the steps. I got halfway and I couldn’t breathe. And I just ran out the house to try to get help."
Rose remembers screaming for help. Her neighbor dialed 911. Then she saw two officers, Flora officer Josh Disinger and Carroll County Deputy Drew Yoder, ran into the house over and over again trying to save the girls.
But they couldn't reach them.
"The ambulance man told me that my babies was no longer here. And after that moment I don’t remember nothing."
That's because Rose was so distressed, she said she had to be sedated. She woke up in the hospital with injuries from smoke inhalation.
An intentionally set fire
The community in Flora came together and honored the girls in a memorial service and a vigil. Rose and her family told us, they were moved and grateful for the support.
Several weeks later, the State Fire Marshal's office dropped a bombshell. Investigators said the Flora house fire was set intentionally. The girls' deaths were ruled homicide. However, Rose didn't get a phone call; she learned this major development on a TV newscast.
"The news. They blasted it"
Quickly after, she said ugly rumors started to fly around Flora about her.
"(They said) I got a gas can. Someone saw me with a gas can. Someone saw me with a match," she remembers hearing.
She adds she even felt blamed for the death of her girls by investigators.
"They blamed me, I feel. Like they felt like I knew and that I had something to do with it," she explained. "They thought someone may be after me, which is not true at all."
Hasnie asked, "Wouldn't you want to help them solve the case? Wouldn't you want to give them all the names?"
Rose replied, "I would give them all the names under the sun. But my attitude and the way I carried myself in that town... I never was around anyone that would come in and set us (on) fire. It's not understandable. It's not connecting with me."
Rose said she was angry, upset, and felt betrayed. She left Flora and the painful reminder of her loss to be closer to family in Indianapolis. But the feeling of betrayal only grew when she said, no one seemed to be answering her questions.
Then, just nine miles away from her tragedy, Carroll County is rocked by another devastating crime.
The hunt for two killers
Two Delphi teen girls were found murdered in the woods on Valentine's Day. The story receives national attention. Authorities hold news conferences and conduct TV interviews. Leads pour in and the reward money grows.
Rose is watching.
"Do you feel like your girls could’ve used that attention?" asked Hasnie.
"Yes. I feel like my girls needed that attention," she replied.
While she completely recognized the Delphi victims and their families deserve every bit of that attention, she wondered, why wasn't that kind of advocacy afforded to her daughters?
We took that question to Carroll County Sheriff Tobe Leazenby. As the face of law enforcement in the County, Rose and her family looked to Leazenby to provide them with some sort of information.
“Do you understand why she would feel that way?" Hasnie asked Leazenby.
“Um, I suppose I would," he replied.
But Leazenby said he didn't have much information about the Flora case to give to Rose, because his department was not the lead agency on the case. The Sheriff's Department only assigned one detective to the case and that person is also working on the Delphi case.
The lead agency in Flora, Leazenby said, is the State Fire Marshal's office.
"I'm not going to, I guess, say anything bad against another agency, but again I think we also resort back to that communication factor. There needs to be maybe a little more open communication," said Leazenby.
The hunt for answers
FOX59 repeatedly requested a sit down interview with State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson. That request was denied. We even took questions directly from Rose and gave the Fire Marshal's representatives an opportunity to answer them via email. However, his office did not provide any answers.
Instead, a spokesperson emailed our newsroom a statement that reads,
As with any open investigation, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS), the State Fire Marshal, Indiana State Police and other partners generally do not disclose information about an ongoing investigation. All involved partners are committed to obtaining justice for the victims of the November 2016 tragedy in Flora.
Investigators are asking anyone with information about the fire to contact the Indiana State Arson Hotline at 1-800-382-4628. Callers can remain anonymous and may receive up to a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the person(s) responsible.
Due to some inquiries from citizens, a fund has been set up to add to the above reward. At this time, contributions can be sent to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, 302 W. Washington Street Room E208, Indianapolis, Indiana, 46204. To make sure the funds go to the appropriate account, the memo line should read “Flora Fire Reward.” We are working on establishing alternate ways citizens can contribute other than check, but those are not available at this time.
Six months, still no suspects
"Labs, tests have been done. Lab results have come back. But I haven’t received anything like a final police report," said Robert Ives, the Prosecutor of Carroll County. He sat down with Hasnie and opened up about the case.
He said not one suspect has been brought to him by investigators on the Flora case. But he is in touch with State Police investigators and receives updates from time to time. He even showed us a pile of statements taken by investigators over the last six months.
"The Flora fire has had as much investigation put on it, as many people involved, as much serious consideration, as probably any other case I’ve ever been involved in except for the Delphi double murder," said Ives. "It’s not more tragic. If anything the Flora case is more tragic. We lost four innocent little girls. They’re both horrifying cases. But the question is, all the resources in the world aren’t going to get a case solved if there isn’t something to follow up on. What we need are more things to follow up on.”
Ives said he has confidence in the State Police investigator on the case. As far as the thousands of tips and leads received in Delphi, he thinks that had a lot to do with the picture and audio filed released of the suspect.
"There are no equivalent items of evidence to release to the public (in Flora)."
Today is the day
But what if there was a larger effort and more public calls for leads and for a bigger reward? In Delphi, the reward sits close to a quarter of a million dollars. In comparison, the reward in Flora is merely $5,000.
Rose is angry.
"I want help. I need help. And I don’t feel like I’m getting it," she told us.
She said she's heard the motto authorities share with the Delphi families: 'Today is the day.' Today is the day the their girls' killer will be found.
Rose said she and her family were never told those words. They got a different kind of message from a fire investigator; one they didn't want to hear.
"They said that the longer it goes on, how it’s going to be harder for them to find justice for my babies," she said. "I’m not going to stop fighting until I figure something out. I don’t care what it takes me; how many days, how many weeks, how many years. I’m going to find out what happened. I’m going to find out."
How to help
The community can now contribute to the reward for the Flora fatal fire investigation by donate to a fund. Please send your donation to:
Indiana Department of Homeland Security, 302 W. Washington Street Room E208, Indianapolis, Indiana, 46204.
The memo line should read “Flora Fire Reward.”