CARMEL, N.Y. – The suburban New York home where an intense early morning blaze killed a police captain, his wife and daughters on Tuesday had multiple smoke detectors, but none sent any alarm to a monitoring station, an official said.
Carmel Police Chief Michael Johnson said investigators don't yet know a cause for the fire which gutted the home of Larchmont Police Department Capt. Thomas Sullivan, turning it into a pile of black rubble and burning bodies to the point where testing will be needed to make final identifications.
"Everything's being explored ... whether it was suspicious or not is still being investigated," Johnson said.
Officials were able to find Sullivan's body on the rear deck, where Johnson said he apparently landed after jumping from the second floor. Two other bodies have been recovered but not identified, and the fourth has possibly been located by a cadaver-sniffing dog.
"They were pretty well burned," Johnson said. "It's very difficult to identify them without an autopsy and DNA."
The other victims are believed to be Sullivan's wife, Donna, and his two teenage daughters, 18-year-old Meaghan and 13-year-old Mairead. His son, 20-year-old Thomas Sullivan Jr., escaped by crawling down the stairs and out of the garage after being woken up by his father, Johnson said.
"He was screaming that there was fire in the house," he said.
The fire, reported by a neighbor just before 2 a.m., left little behind of the family's home on a quiet street in Carmel, in Putnam County about 60 miles north of New York City.
Johnson said no 911 calls came from inside the house, which he said was equipped with wired smoke detectors.
Sullivan was a former New York police officer assigned to the Bronx who had left the city for the comparatively tranquil suburbs two decades ago because he felt he could make a bigger difference in a smaller community.
"We are devastated, the village of Larchmont as a whole," said Larchmont Police Chief John Poleway, who said Sullivan was "full of integrity, honesty, he was dedicated to family."
Sullivan's daughters were students at Carmel High School. Mairead was a freshman and Meaghan a senior.
"The school community is devastated," said the district's superintendent, James Ryan. "We are working together in this very difficult time to offer supports to students and staff."
Principal Kevin Carroll said the girls "were good students and nice kids."
"Obviously today their teachers were very upset, and of course the other students," he said, adding that school psychologists were following the girls' class schedules to see the children who would be most upset.
He said that many of the students knew of the fire by the time they got to school, and that administrators made an official announcement at 7:10 a.m.
"It was very quiet for the most part," Carroll said of the school's atmosphere. "There was something in the air."
The blaze was so intense that it melted the siding of two nearby homes and prevented firefighters from entering, said Johnson. It took firefighters from several towns three hours to extinguish the flames. Video of the fire, posted on the website of the Journal News, showed the home being nearly entirely consumed by a fireball.