Investigators release Osage Beach condo fire investigation report

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OSAGE BEACH -   A new report on the fire that killed four children in an Osage Beach condominium Aug. 4 shows there had been an earlier kitchen fire at the home.

The Missouri Division of Fire Safety report cites multiple accounts of what happened before the later fire gutted the condo.

The people living in the condominium that four children died in were Brigette Hendrickson and Jacob Helton, who were the parents of victim Kairi Helton, according to the report. 

The three other children who died in the fire, Joshua Hendrickson, LeeAnn Hendrickson and ZeZa Bradshaw, were the children of Heather Hendrickson. Her boyfriend, Joshua Kenutson, is the brother of Jacob Helton. Heather Hendrickson and Brigette Hendrickson are sisters. 

The report states all of them were celebrating a birthday when a pot of oil boiled over.

"Joshua and Heather said they began cooking some bratwursts and hamburgers but found they needed some condiments," the report states. "Heather and Brigette left while Jacob and Joshua continued to cook the food on the grill out on the balcony. They said Brigette had a pot of oil heating up to fry some potatoes in so they told Josh and Jacob not to forget about it."

The report states the two did forget about it, but when they returned to the pot everything was fine. 

"He [Joshua] said Jacob then put all of the rest of the potatoes in all at once which caused the oil to boil over the sides of the pot," the report states. "Josh said as the oil boiled over it got to the burner and filled the condominium with smoke. He said a small bit of oil on the stove top caught fire but they patted it out with their hands. He said the entire condominium filled with smoke so they had to open the windows and doors to air it out."

When the party was coming to a close, the children begged to stay at the apartment instead of going home, according to the report. 

"Josh said he and Heather went home," the report states. "He said they got to thinking about the kids so he texted Jacob at 21:29 hours and asked how ZeZa was doing."

Later the report covers Jacob Helton's account of what happened. The report states he would have been the only adult in the condominium at the time of the fire, since the other couple went home and his girlfriend went to work.

The report quotes Jacob Helton as saying, after the children watched a movie, he put the young boy in the bed of his roommate, Paul Henderson, and he put the girls in Brigette's bed. 

In the report the investigator says: "Jacob said he went back to the living room where he was watching television and flipping through channels. He said all of a sudden he smelled smoke so he looked through the condominium to see where it was coming from. He said they have had problems with the plastic coffee container they use for cigarette butts smoking so he went and opened the front door to see if it was smoking again. Jacob said when he opened the door he immediately saw the wall to the right of the door on fire. He said he could not tell how low the fire was burning but the top of the flames were about shoulder to head high. I asked if the fire went all of the way to the floor. He said he could not see that low because of the fire up near his head. I asked if the air conditioner condensing unit was on fire. He said no. I asked if the cigarette butt container was on fire. He again said he could not see down past the flames which were next to his head."

The report states Jacob Helton said he tried to put the fire out with pots of water from the kitchen sink, but this caused the fire to turn to to a heavy black smoke that then reignited.

"Jacob said he turned around and ran back to the kitchen to get more water," according to the report. "He said that time he forgot to close the door and the residence began to fill with smoke. He said he opened the balcony door to get rid of the smoke like he had done earlier but it just caused the smoke to get worse."

The report states Jacob Helton said smoke filled the entire living room and kitchen full so much that he couldn't see.

"He said he stepped out on the balcony to get a breath of fresh air and attempted to go toward the bedrooms and get the kids," the report states. "He said he is not sure what happened but that he got turned around and ended up back at the balcony. He said he again got another breath of air and tried again but could not make it to the bedrooms to get the kids. He said he began to yell for help but he was getting to where he could not breathe. He said he finally decided to tear the balcony screen and start climbing down the balconies."

A woman named Sharilyn Buckman was named in the report. Her account states she was there at the time of the fire. She rents a condo in the complex, according to the report.

The report states that while Buckman was turning off the light before bed, she heard a man yelling "get my baby, my baby. Help me get my baby!" 

"She said she looked out her window to the parking lot and grabbed her phone," the report states. "She said she did not see anything so she went to her unit's door and opened it. Buckman said when she opened the door she could see a fire on the breezeway platform directly above her. She said embers were falling from above her door while the vinyl siding directly above her door appeared to be melting and distorting in shape."

Buckman grabbed shoes and ran out of the condominium, according to the report. She told investigators in the report she thought she saw a child's scooter on the fourth floor.  

The report states Ronald Kernan was outside and also heard a man yelling for help.

"He said the man was yelling that he could not breathe and his girl was inside," according to the report.

Kernan said in the report he saw smoke coming from the top of the building on the lake side and fire in the breezeway on the fourth or the roof above it.

"Kernan said he observed the man coming out from his balcony, which was the on the west side of the fourth story of the structure," the report states. "He said the man began climbing down the other balconies below his until he got to the ground. He said by the time the man got to the ground the fire had grown larger and was extending out from the breezeway on the fourth story. Kernan said the man ran around the building and then went up to the parking lot west of the condominium where Kernan thought he stopped and spoke to someone. Kernan said he did not see where the man went after that."

Investigators interviewed Mike Hays, who lived in the condominium with his wife Lishia Moore. In the report Hays said he was "getting ready for bed" and "heard a noise that sounded like a big piece of metal falling onto a hard surface."

The report states: "[H]e opened his unit's door and could see smoke while hearing a man yelling 'oh my God!'" Hays told investigators he and his wife then ran out of the building.

Even though the report states Jacob Helton said he was in the condominium at the time of the fire and tried to save them, a different account states otherwise.

Zach Pacheco's connection is that he was in contact with Jacob Helton's roommate, Paul Henderson, the time of the fire. 

"The police department said this person was to have been in communication with Henderson and knew he and Jacob Helton were not at the unit at the time of the fire," according to the report.

The report states the investigator asked Pacheco why he believes the father was not there.

"Pacheco said he believes the father of the kids left the unit and took his roommate Paul Henderson to Wal-Mart," according to the report. "He said if he had done this the children would have been left in the unit by themselves."

The report states the investigator asked why Pacheco believed this.

"He said he had contacted Paul because he wanted to buy one gram of marijuana. I asked what time he had contacted Paul. He looked on his phone and said 23:14 hours. Pacheco went on to say Paul told him he was going to Wal-Mart to buy some Rumple Minze (peppermint schnapps). Pacheco said he and Paul agreed to meet at the condominium. Pacheco said he texted Paul again at 23:19 hours and said he would be there in about fifteen minutes. He said Paul texted back at 23:20 and said 'ok, I'm stopping by Wal-Mart we should be there about the same time'. Pacheco said when Paul made the reference to 'we' he assumed he meant Jacob. He said he arrived at the condominium and found it on fire. He said he observed Paul and Heather by the swimming pool, crying."

An investigator in the report described what he found in the damaged condominium.

"I went to the refrigerator, which had been destroyed by the fire," according to the report. "I found the contents of the freezer had also collapsed down into the refrigerator. As I examined the contents of the refrigerator I believe I located the bottle to the Rumple Minze, which Helton said would have been in the freezer. The bottle had broken so all of the liquid inside was no longer present. I searched for the four beer cans he said were in the refrigerator from the six-pack of cans he had been drinking from. I located four cans of beer within the refrigerator debris."

The report states the investigator saw wiring near an air conditioner and condensing unit that was very damaged.

"I then went over near the door, which led out onto the landing in the breezeway,"the investigator said. "In the doorway was the top to an air conditioner condensing unit. As the top cover to the condensing unit was turned over, it was found to still have the fan motor attached. The wiring in the area of the wall, which led to the condensing unit, was examined. This wiring had received heavy fire damage as well as having indications of arcing."

The investigator in the report said he returned to the top of the scaffolding and examined the landing again.

"All damage to the landing and the west exterior wall indicated the fire originated in this location," the report states. "Due to the heavy fire damage in this area and the lack of the condensing unit components, I could not confirm or deny it may have been involved with this fire."

The report states the investigator was unable to locate any components to the plastic coffee container, which the occupants said they had been using for old cigarette butts.

Investigators said the cause of the fire could not be determined because of the extent of the damage.

(Editor's note: This story has been updated to include further accounts of the night of the fire.)