10-Year-Old Boy Blamed For Fatal Fire

Monday, October 1st 2007, 6:55 am
By: News On 6

CINCINNATI (AP) _ People described Timothy Douglas Byers as shy and easygoing, someone who liked riding bikes and tossing footballs. He would play jokes in the church van, and eat pizza rolls and orange drink.

Now the 10-year-old is accused of deliberately setting the Sept. 16 fire that killed his mother and sister and three other children in Greenville. He was charged after allegedly confessing.

Byers faces five delinquency counts of murder and one delinquency count of aggravated arson. If he is found to be responsible for the deaths, prosecutor Richard Howell said Byers could be transferred to an adult prison after he turns 21.

Defense attorney David Rohrer said last week he planned to issue a denial of all the charges at a hearing set for Monday, and will ask that the alleged confession not be used as evidence.

His attorney has said Byers was pressured into confessing and family members don't believe the accusations against the boy, said Rocky Reed, his step-grandfather.

The Rev. William Zink, pastor of New Life Pentecostals of Greenville, the church Byers has attended since he was 4, said it's also hard for him to think that the boy was responsible for the devastating fire in the community of 13,000 people near Indiana.

``I felt like somebody kicked me in the stomach,'' Zink said of learning Byers had been charged.

Killed in the blaze were Byers' mother, Chanan Palmer, 30, and sister Kaysha Minnich, 8. The other victims were Kayla Winans, 6; Je'Shawn Davis, 5; and Jasmine Davis, 3. Their mother, Christy Winans, 31, escaped.

Susan Riegle, the city schools superintendent who was principal of the elementary school Byers attended, called the boy a well-behaved student who got along well with his peers and never caused problems.

Byers lived in a low-income, rough-and-tumble neighborhood where shouting and fistfights sometimes erupt on the street at night and in the early morning. His mother worked as a waitress, and his family struggled financially.

After his stepfather died in July, Winans and her three young children moved out of a homeless shelter and in with Byers and his family.

On the night before the fire, the boy was sleeping on the couch because his bedroom was taken, Howell has said. Authorities say there is no evidence he intended to kill anyone.

John Graham, who runs the homeless shelter where Winans and her children had stayed before moving in with Byers' family, said the tragedy has rocked the community ``to the core.''

``But I think very quickly we're going to forget because we want to forget,'' Graham said. ``We want to move on. We want to be normal again.''