Four bodies found in Kansas house after arson

SCRANTON, Kan. | Investigators tried Tuesday to sort out the details of an arson at a home where three children and an adult were found dead, while neighbors struggled to make sense of what happened.

A half-dozen police vehicles were parked in the front yard Tuesday as investigators continued looking into what happened inside the single-story tan house with red shutters. Yellow crime scene tape ringed the house, but there was little evidence outside that there had been a fire Monday morning.

Osage County Sheriff Laurie Dunn said she wouldn't release the names of the victims or details of what happened until the victims have been positively identified and the cause of the deaths established by the coroner's office in neighboring Shawnee County.

A message posted Tuesday night on the sheriff's Web site said only that Dunn expected to hold a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Dunn said Tuesday the victims included an adult and three children under age 17 but declined to say where they were found in the house or their genders. She said no arrests had made and nobody was in custody Tuesday.

The Kansas State Fire Marshal's Office said the blaze was arson, but declined to say what led to that conclusion.

“It's still early in the investigation,” said Rose Rozmiarek, chief of investigation for the office.

Dunn said authorities received a call at 10:39 a.m. Monday but added, “The fire was out when everybody arrived.”

Osage County tax records available online showed the house was owned by Michael L. and Amy C. Shirley. Neighbors said they lived there with their three children, two boys and a girl.

In the nearby town of Carbondale, the principal of the Carbondale Attendance Center — which serves kindergarten through eighth grade — confirmed that three of its students had died but declined to release their names or ages. Eight additional counselors and one psychologist were at the school Tuesday to help grieving students.

Alicia Ambroski recalled that after she and her family moved next door to the burned house in August, the Shirleys brought over muffins to welcome them.

“They were extremely friendly. You would have never thought anything like that would happen,” she said. “We're playing it over and over again in our minds: What happened?”

On the other side of the house, Tony Roberts moved in seven years ago and the family came over to introduce themselves. He declined to speculate about what happened, although there were ample rumors in this rural community of 725 about 20 miles southwest of Topeka.

“They were good folks and the kids were real respectful,” he said. “They were a decent family. They were really good people.”

Across the street, Steve Ferris recalled doing the electrical wiring for the house when it was built in the 1980s, adding, “They were nice people. I had no problem with the house-wiring job.”

“I liked Mike, but he was a different kind of guy. He pretty much kept to himself,” Ferris said. “He'd say, 'Hi Steve,' and would keep on walking.”

The Kansas Lottery said a Scranton man identified as Michael Shirley won a $20,000 prize in a drawing last year and in 2007 won $8,600 in cash and merchandise in a drawing.

At the RC Branding Iron Restaurant and Saloon, manager Chad Berkley said the restaurant was abuzz with talk about what happened.

“In a small town, it takes only a day for a story to get worse than it was. It's definitely shocking when something like this happens in a small town. You never expect it,” Berkley said.