AURORA, Colo. — Aurora police arrested a 37-year-old woman on murder and arson charges in connection with a Monday morning fire that killed a 5-year-old boy at the Bella Terra at City Center Apartment Homes in Aurora.
The suspect, Alondra Michel, was arrested Monday afternoon following interviews with numerous witnesses, and by examining physical evidence from the scene of the fire that also injured nine people and damaged 12 units, displacing 31 residents, according to the Aurora Police Department.
Police said Alondra was involved in a domestic violence incident with a resident on the main level of the apartment building and allegedly set something inside of the apartment on fire, which quickly spread to adjacent units, including the second-story apartment where the 5-year-old boy was found.
Calls first started coming in about the fire at the three-story multifamily apartment building, located at 15400 E. Evans Ave., around 1:30 a.m., according to Aurora Fire Rescue. The fire was under control by about 2:30 a.m.
Multiple people had to be rescued. Medics evaluated nine patients, and three had to be taken to hospitals. Among the three transported was the 5-year-old boy, who was later pronounced deceased at the hospital.
Details on the severity of the injuries of the other two hospitalized patients have not been released. Six other patients refused care at the scene.
No further details on the death, including the boy's identity, were immediately available. Detectives from the Aurora Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit are handling what they are calling a homicide investigation.
Crews on scene of a 2nd Alarm fire in a 3 story multifamily apartment building in the 15300 block of E. Evans Ave. pic.twitter.com/Ax1PP1uVfR— Aurora Fire Rescue (@AuroraFireDpt) January 24, 2022
Jazmine Murray, a Bella Terra resident whose unit is close to where the fire started, was awoken by the smell of smoke and banging on her door.
"My neighbor actually came and started banging on my door, like 'there is a fire! Get out of there! Get out of there!'" Murray said. "So, I come out and I am a little disoriented, and I come out and see, and that’s when I hear a 'boom,' a loud bang go off. There was like a huge fireball that started coming through the downstairs."
Aurora Fire Rescue said there was a “significant overhaul underway” and that stairwells on both sides of the apartment building had failed. In a later update, investigators confirmed there was heavy fire involvement in the stairwells that spanned over the three levels of the apartment, which caused some stair collapses.
Murray said she heard a woman screaming for her child and saw firefighters frantically trying to save the 5-year-old boy as they took him away in a stretcher.
"I don't think you really can process that because it literally went from zero to 100 in seconds, and just seeing him lifeless on that stretcher, not knowing," Murray said. "How do you process that for the mom? Like, what do you say? You can't say anything."
Five disaster action team volunteers responded to the scene to provide immediate assistance like blankets and water, and the Red Cross is also responding to mental health and other health services.
The Red Cross says in addition to the 12 damaged apartments, the fire left 12 other apartments without utility service. There's no word on when residents may be able to return.
Michel is facing charges of first-degree murder, first-degree arson and three counts of attempted first-degree murder. She's scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.
Aurora Fire Rescue has the following fire tips for people who live in apartments and condos:
- Know the safety features of your building like locations of safety features and exits.
- Practice your exit. Make a backup plan.
- Don’t prop stairway or corridor doors open.
- Report fire protection features that do not work.
- Remember to close doors when you exit.
- Don’t tamper with life safety devices.
- In the event of a fire, stay calm and follow the plan. Call 911 for help.