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Adult and four kids die in Missouri house fire that police deem ‘suspicious’

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — Police are investigating a “suspicious” fire near St. Louis that killed a woman and four children.

Firefighters were called to a home in Ferguson at 4:23 a.m. Monday and found the building engulfed in flames. St. Louis County police Sgt. Tracy Panus said the five people who died were found inside the home.

Panus said in an email that “evidence located on the property” made the cause of the fire suspicious, but she declined to elaborate. St. Louis Regional Bomb and Arson detectives are assisting in the investigation.

Police hadn’t named the victims as of Tuesday morning but did describe them as a woman and four children.

Relatives and neighbors told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Bernadine Pruessner lived in the home with her four children. Pruessner’s father, Cordell Beache, told the newspaper that his daughter was “an amazing person” with “very bright” children. Although he couldn’t confirm whether they had died, he told the newspaper that he hadn’t heard from them since the fire.

Beache said his daughter was close to receiving her doctorate in early childhood education. She was working as an assistant professor in the child development department at Lewis & Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois.

Chickens and rabbits survived the fire, but three dogs died, police said.

Neighbor Jerry McClure said he woke up and saw flames. He called 911 and went with another neighbor to the house, where they found the home’s south side of in flames.

“The smoke was so bad. I tried to kick the front door,” McClure said. “We just couldn’t wake them up.”

Beache said he was with the family Sunday night to watch two of the children — twin 9-year-olds Ellie and Ivy Pruessner — play soccer. After that, they had dinner out together.

In addition to the twins, 5-year-old Jackson Spader and 2-year-old Millie Spader lived in the home, Beache told the Post-Dispatch.