- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

BALTIMORE Police arrested a Baltimore man yesterday and charged him with arson and first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of five children and their mother, who neighbors said had tried to stop drug dealing near her home.

Darrell Brooks, 21, who lived one block from the victims, is accused of starting Wednesday's row-house fire that killed Angela Dawson, 36, and her five children. Her husband, Carnell Dawson Sr., 43, was critically injured but survived the early morning fire, which destroyed the three-story house in the 1400 block of East Preston Street.

"We believe some individuals in the area were tired of how many times Mr. and Mrs. Dawson called police for a variety of reasons, including drug activity," said Commissioner Edward Norris of the Baltimore City Police Department.

Mr. Norris said more suspects could be arrested in what he called one of the most horrific crimes in his 23-year career in law enforcement.

Residents in the east Baltimore neighborhood, where about half of the row houses are boarded up, said they believed the fire was retaliation for the family's stand against street-corner drug dealing.

Col. Robert Stanton, chief of detectives, said Mr. Brooks has a "drug history" in the neighborhood.

Two weeks ago, somebody tossed two Molotov cocktails through the Dawsons' kitchen window at about 4 a.m. Police said it caused minor damage and that the family escaped unharmed.

The Baltimore Sun reported yesterday that the family later declined a police department offer to move them.

Jeffrey Eaton, a 45-year-old neighbor, said Mrs. Dawson tried to force drug dealers from her corner.

A man who often visited his grandmother a few doors away from the Dawsons said he had seen Mr. Dawson arguing with teenagers loitering on the corner.

Mr. Eaton said the fire sent a clear message to the neighborhood.

"It shows right here, 'If you mess with us, this is what we do to you,'" he said, pointing to the burnt-out brick row house.

Neighbor Danny Dansbury said of Mrs. Dawson: "She was a good lady. She cared. That's what happens."

The fire started Wednesday at 2:18 a.m. Inside the house, firefighters found the bodies of Mrs. Dawson and her five children: 9-year-old twins Keith and Kevin, 10-year-olds Carnell Dawson Jr. and Juan Ortiz, and 14-year-old LaWanda Ortiz.

Mr. Dawson suffered second- and third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body before leaping from a second-story window to escape the flames. He was in critical condition yesterday at a hospital, said police.

"A normal fire doesn't act like that," said Mr. Dansbury, who watched as flames gutted the house in about 30 minutes.

The Dawsons had blamed the firebombing two weeks ago on a teen whom Mrs. Dawson had taken to court a day earlier on charges of assault and property destruction.

That fire prompted prosecutors this week to reopen a criminal case against the teen.

Any connection to the fire also could be a probation violation, the Sun said.

In a police report related to the first fire, Mrs. Dawson described her family's escape:

"My husband and I gathered our babies and led them to safety," she wrote. "Before getting out of the [house], we experienced choking from the smoke and could hardly see how to get to the door. The heat was very intense coming from the kitchen. Every time I threw water on the fire, it flared up even more.

I finally got the fire under control and went outside with my family."

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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