"Danger to Children"

Why did Kelly Blake douse her kids with gas and set them on fire? She's seriously mentally ill -- and she was deserted by the system charged with protecting her and her family.

"Yeah. But I didn't know that [yet].... Then, she came home [five minutes later]. She said, 'Come on, John, I gotta talk to you.' My brother and sister were outside playing basketball.... She said, 'I know I haven't been a good parent. I know that everything I do is wrong,' and then she said, 'Oh, now, let's play a little game.'"

Johnny described how Blake had asked him and his siblings to don handkerchiefs as blindfolds.

"She said, 'I'll lead you.' Then she put us in the storage room. And then she said, 'Wait here, but keep those handkerchiefs on.' She said to our dog, Brownie, 'Oh, you wanna go too?' But he didn't want to go. He ran out in the front. And when she opened the [car] door to get the gas, he must have jumped into the car.

Blake, left; Raymond, next to her; and Venessa, across from her mother; at a Phoenix restaurant shortly before the fire.
Blake, left; Raymond, next to her; and Venessa, across from her mother; at a Phoenix restaurant shortly before the fire.
Kelly Blake and her three children, clockwise from top, Johhny, Raymond and Venessa.
Kelly Blake and her three children, clockwise from top, Johhny, Raymond and Venessa.

(Firefighters later found Brownie unharmed in the car.)

"Then she came in, the blindfolds are still on. And she started pouring the gas ..."

Johnny made a whooshing sound to replicate the moment.

"I went out the door trying to call the neighbors, tell them to call the police. And then I went and got the hose, and I was trying to squirt them down ..."

The detective backed off, as Johnny told how he earned money by cutting lawns and taking care of a neighbor's dog. He said he'd buy cockatiels with his proceeds, raising the birds for sale in an aviary he'd built himself.

Johnny then recalled more about Kelly Blake's last words to him before leading him and his siblings into the shed:

"'I've just been trying to do things for you guys, the ones I love the most, and all I wanted was for you guys to grow up and love God.... But it seems like everything I do, it's wrong, it always turns out wrong.' It seemed weird, and then she said, 'Okay, let's play a game now.'"

In trying to save Ray and Venessa, Johnny said, he'd briefly used the water hose, then ripped out the vent from the lower half of the shed door.

"At first, I didn't see where they were," Johnny said. "There was so much flame. Once I saw him [Ray], at first I thought he was dead, but then he started moving. So then I pulled him through the vent. And then he said, 'Go on, get out of here.' He said, 'Help me, why did she do that?'"

"Did you see Venessa?"

"Yeah. She was too far for me to reach. She was just laying there. She wasn't moving."

Johnny said he'd seen his mother in the backyard, "just walking around on fire. Then when the police came, I saw her laying on the ground."

The detective zeroed in on Blake's possible motivation.

"Do you believe your mom tried to kill you?"

"Yeah, I know she did."

"Do you know why your mom tried to kill you?"

"I just, I don't know. She probably just had -- crazy or something. I don't know."

Detective Swine then delivered heartbreaking news:

"Your mom and your brother are really, really, really bad, okay. And I mean really, really bad burned."

"Yeah. I saw my brother. All his clothes are burned, and everything."

"Okay. Your sister did not live, okay.... And you're right, you're probably absolutely right that your mom just kind of went crazy, okay, because normally a mother would not do this to her children, or herself."

"Will my mom go to jail if she lives?"

"Yeah, probably."

"Or would she go to the madhouse?"

Blake's criminal attorney, assistant public defender Vikki Liles, may echo the police officer's sentiments at trial. Swine told the boy:

"We would probably find out that your mom's thought process is not right -- the nervous breakdown that you talked about -- that generally causes people to do all kinds of weird stuff. And in the law, in order to go to jail, you have to know that you're doing something wrong, and you have to intend to do it while you do it knowingly."

"She'd do it [knowingly]," Johnny countered, "if she could go to the gas station and get the gas."

"Okay, true, okay," the detective said, taken aback by the youngster's powers of deduction. "But the point of it is, if she's got a lot of other stuff going on in her head -- this is something that, nobody does this. It's not something that somebody just does, okay. So, no, I don't believe that your mom would go to jail."

"No," Johnny said. "I want her to go to jail."

"Change Kelly Change Kelly Change Kelly Change Kelly. Jesus, change my heart, please change my heart and mind, Jesus. I don't know how to change."

-- from Kelly Blake's diary, February 1998

Johnny Fausto and his grandmother moved back into the home on Clarendon several weeks after the fire. They returned after volunteers from Habitat for Humanity rebuilt it, razing the shed in the process.

The volunteers included several firefighters who had been there on March 20, 1998, including Autry Cheatham.

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