IRVINGTON, N.J. – Three bodies were found after a house fire Monday morning, and the Essex County prosecutor said it appears the fire was set to conceal a homicide.
A fourth person died after undergoing surgery for gunshot wounds, and authorities said at least one of those killed also had been shot.
"It's a horrific crime scene," Prosecutor Paula Dow said. "We have multiple victims and a fire that looks like a coverup."
Dow said 18-year-old Zakiyyah Jones died Monday afternoon after being taken to University Hospital in Newark for treatment of a gunshot wound to the head.
Police said at least one of the three people whose bodies were found in the burned house had been shot. She was identified as 13-year-old Latrisha Fields-Carruthers.
The fire was reported at 7:45 a.m. in a three-story wood frame residence on Columbia Avenue near the Newark-Irvington border.
Noel Harris, a tenant on the third floor of the house, said he was awakened by a text message at about 7:30 a.m. Soon after, he heard screams and what sounded like someone banging with a hammer in the apartment below him.
"It sounded like someone beating a child," said Harris.
Soon his own apartment was engulfed in smoke.
"It got to the point where I couldn't breathe," he said. "I thought I was going to have to jump."
Harris leaned out the front window and began screaming for help, and attracted the attention of several neighbors who had come outside. A few attempted to reach him before fire trucks arrived and he was able to climb down a ladder to safety.
Harris, 44, said he moved to Irvington three weeks ago from Brooklyn and didn't know the building's other residents.
"It's tragic," he said as he stood in the street in his stocking feet. "I'm the fortunate one; I made it out."
The fire was extinguished within an hour. The two lower floors of the home were extensively damaged.
Emergency personnel carried one body out of the house at about 11 a.m., and another about 30 minutes later.
Newark Fire Department Director Dave Giordano told The Star-Ledger of Newark that one female in the house had been shot in the head.
Paul Loriquet, spokesman for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, said an injured woman was operated on at University Hospital in Newark late Monday morning with a gunshot wound.
At least one of the dead had been shot as well, he said. The cause of death for the other two had not yet been determined, Loriquet said.
Detectives from the Essex County Prosecutor's Homicide Squad and Arson Task Force along with Irvington police were on the scene.