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New information revealed in fatal Goodfield fire investigation

Courts graphic

Two days after five members of his family were killed in a 2019 mobile home fire in Goodfield, a 9-year-old boy became a suspect in what authorities considered to be a case of arson, a Woodford County detective testified Friday at the minor’s juvenile court hearing on murder charges.

The boy and his mother, Katrina Alwood, survived the April 6, 2019 fire that killed Jason Wall, 34, Daemeon Wall, 2, and Ariel Wall, 1. Alwood and Wall were parents of the two children. Alwood’s grandmother, Kathryn Murry, 69, and a niece Rose Alwood, 2, also were victims.

New information about the alleged role the boy may have played in the fatal blaze was disclosed during a 90-minute hearing Friday on a defense motion to suppress evidence police may have obtained from the shirt the boy may have been wearing the night of the fire. The boy’s court-appointed lawyer, Peter Dluski, also asked that evidence collected from the burned-our trailer be barred because authorities approved removal of the mobile home 12 days after the fire.

The lack of a search warrant for the shirt and the removal of the trailer violated the boy’s constitutional rights, the defense argued.

Judge Charles Feeney disagreed, saying the boy’s mother had the authority to hand over the shirt of her minor son, making a search warrant unnecessary. The trailer was deemed a health and safety hazard, said Feeney, and was removed after evidence was collected. That evidence still exists, noted the judge.

Woodford County Sheriff’s Department Detective Robert Gilson testified that the boy was interviewed on April 8, 2019, for about an hour.

“We became concerned and he became a person of interest of interest on the 8th…he was not a suspect when we started the interview,” said Gilson.

But the child was not the only person authorities were scrutinizing, according to the detective. Police had not eliminated the boy’s mother as a person of interest, said Gilson. The day after the fire, police learned of allegations that the boy and his mother may have been involved in another fire, the detective testified.

The minor was charged in October 2019 with murder and arson. His mother was never charged.

Police also looked into claims that a maintenance worker at the mobile home park may have previously given matches to the young suspect, said the detective.

When Gilson arrived at the Timberline Mobile Home Park shortly before midnight, he saw flames still shooting from the trailer, according to his testimony. The state fire marshal and Illinois State Police crime scene investigators also were summoned to the scene.

The state fire marshal is the lead agency for collecting evidence at fire scenes, explained Gilson, adding Woodford County police handled the investigation “like any other scene if there was a death.”

Public defender Andrew Langton was with the child during the recorded interview with police.

Following the interview, Gilson, along with fire marshal and crime scene agents, returned to the trailer park to speak with the boy’s mother and grandmother, Lori Alwood, who lived nearby and was helping care for the child. Police asked for the boy’s shirt and the women retrieved it from the grandmother’s trailer. They turned the shirt over to police without hesitation, said Gilson.

A Feb. 28 hearing is scheduled on multiple pending motions, including a defense motion to suppress the child’s statements. The child, who is living with relatives of his father, did not attend Friday’s hearing and is not expected to be in court in February.

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Edith began her career as a reporter with The DeWitt County Observer, a weekly newspaper in Clinton. From 2007 to June 2019, Edith covered crime and legal issues for The Pantagraph, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Illinois. She previously worked as a correspondent for The Pantagraph covering courts and local government issues in central Illinois.
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