ST LOUIS – A fire at a fraternity house near the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus killed a student early Wednesday, less than two weeks after a fatal blaze at the home of a Nebraska fraternity.
Three students lived at the Pi Kappa Alpha house in St. Louis, and two got out when the fire broke out around 3:30 a.m., university spokesman Bob Samples said.
Police identified the victim as Brian Schlittler, 25, a senior from the St. Louis area.
"It's a tragedy," Samples said. "We want to find out how it happened and work from there."
No one else was hurt. Authorities were investigating how the fire began at the small brick and wood-frame house.
One of the residents arrived home to find a couch on fire in the living room, Bel-Ridge Police Chief Gordon Brock said. The student ran through the house, knocking on the bedroom doors of the other two students.
The student told police he roused Schlittler, who indicated he was preparing to leave, Brock said.
"The other two left the house and turned around to see that Schlittler hadn't followed," Brock said. "By the time they turned around, it was too rough to go back in there."
Brock said Schlittler's bedroom was upstairs, and flames blocked his passage downstairs. Schlittler was a large man, and the only windows upstairs were too narrow to allow his escape.
The heat from the fire was extreme — a small car parked in the house's driveway was virtually melted by the heat.
Dozens of students congregated outside the fraternity house soon after the fire, many of them crying. Counselors were being brought in to help console students, faculty and staff, Samples said.
The Pi Kappa Alpha chapter Web site lists 36 active members. It has two houses, the other with four occupants, Samples said.
Missouri-St. Louis has about 16,000 students, making it the third-largest campus in the state.
In Nebraska, investigators said fraternity members told them fireworks were set off in or around a house in Lincoln shortly before a fire that killed one student and injured three earlier this month.
According to a search warrant affidavit released Tuesday, investigators confiscated dozens of bottle rockets, 1.5-inch firecrackers and larger fireworks at the Phi Kappa Tau house at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
Assistant Police Chief Jim Peschong said it would be "very inappropriate" to assume the fireworks caused the fire. Peschong said it could be weeks before investigators make a final determination. The Nebraska state fire marshal has ruled out arson.
The university said Wednesday that once police and fire investigations are complete, it will discipline those responsible for the forbidden fireworks — and for 4.4 grams of marijuana that also were found in the house.
Grant Johnson, who is president of the Wesleyan student body and a member of the fraternity, said Wednesday that his room was next door to Stewart's. Fireworks were not a part of that night's celebration of new members, he said.
A man who lives about 50 yards behind the fraternity house, Karl Van Derslice, said Wednesday he didn't hear any loud partying or fireworks.