Prosecutors on Wednesday charged 34-year-old Sabrina M. Dunigan of East St. Louis, Illinois, with five counts of endangering the life or health of a child.
Authorities allege that Dunigan left her children alone around 3 a.m. on Aug. 6 to pick up her boyfriend from work and “knowingly caused or permitted a child to be placed in circumstances that endangered the child’s life or health,” according to court documents obtained by the newspaper.
Upon returning to the apartment and encountering flames and smoke, Dunigan attempted to save the children but she was unable to find them and suffered burns on her arms and feet.
Dunigan’s father, Greg Dunigan, and his wife were living in the same apartment and were supposed to be looking after the children, but he told the newspaper that they fell asleep. He and his wife escaped by jumping from the second floor.
Four of the kids were found dead at the scene, while a fifth died at a hospital. A medical examiner classified the death of the child at the hospital as accidental because of smoke inhalation, the Post-Dispatch reports. Details on the other children’s deaths have not been released publicly.
The children were 9-year-old Deontae Davis, 8-year-old twin girls Heaven and Neveah “Veah” Dunigan, 4-year-old Jabari Johnson and 2-year-old Loy-el Dunigan.
Dunigan and her father have said they believe an electrical fire started the blaze, which remains under investigation, and have alleged that the unit lacked smoke detectors, according to the newspaper.
But landlord Rudy Mcintosh disputes that claim. Mcintosh alleges that Dunigan told him she left a candle burning in the apartment when she left, according to KTVI-TV. Officials have not confirmed that allegation.
“I don’t know what she told the investigators, but she told me she left a candle burning and the kids set the apartment on fire. That’s what she said to me,” Mcintosh told KTVI-TV on Thursday.
Greg Dunigan told the Post-Dispatch that he did not understand why prosecutors were going after his daughter.
“Why are they trying to do this to her?” he asked, according to the newspaper. “She done lost all she can lose already. Why they want to take the rest away, meaning herself? She don’t have nothing left.”
A judge set Sabrina Dunigan’s bail at $75,000. She was not in custody on Friday, according to the New York Post.
Prosecutors are charging the case as felonies. Dunigan faces two to 10 years in prison on each count, although state law permits probation when it involves a parent whose child died.
The family had been displaced by an earlier fire at a previous home in 2019, according to KSDK-TV.
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