March 12, 1999 - Six children were killed in a
fire in the 1400 block of Salisbury.
Police would later charge Nevelynn Stokes
with first-degree murder. They said Stokes set the fire after he was
beaten up during a quarrel with the woman who lived in the building and
Arsonist gets terms of life,
120 years for fire that killed 6 children in apartment
St Louis Post-Dispatch
June 23, 2001
Nevelyn Stokes, 25, must serve nearly 64 years before
he can be eligible for parole, lawyers say.
Despite being sentenced Friday to separate terms of
120 years and life in prison for setting a fire that killed six children,
Nevelyn Stokes will still be eligible for parole - but not until he is
at least 88 years old.
Stokes, 25, said nothing at the hearing before St.
Louis Circuit Judge Donald McCullin. The defense lawyer, Kris Kerr,
reminded the court of Stokes' testimony at trial that he did not know
anyone was home when he splashed a gallon of gasoline in anger and
Nevelyn Stokes, 23, told police that he encountered a
woman and her boyfriend Friday afternoon on the street. The pair beat
him, he said. Stokes allegedly had robbed the woman about a month
earlier, police said.
Later that Friday, Stokes, bent on revenge, was back
at the woman's apartment.
He brought a can of gasoline with him. Sound like
something bad is about to happen?
Police say Stokes set fire to a second story rear
porch, apparently believing no one was in the building. But he was a
little of the mark there, six children and three adults were inside.
A man, 18, dropped from a window. Firefighters picked
another man, 19, off the roof. A woman, 20, tried to get to the third
floor, where two of her children were. But she couldn't get through the
flames and smoke and dropped from a window, suffering a broken leg.
Meanwhile, three of the children fled to a closet,
apparently trying to escape the flames. Firefighters found their bodies.
In the living room were the bodies of three more children. One wouldn't
think that this left a pretty sight for the fireman.
Police identified the victims as Amber Polk, 6 1/2
months, Briana Sanford, 2, Forise Dexter Nowden, 5, Jason Wordlaw, 6,
Darrell Howell Jr., 8 and Danielle Williams, 9.
Rather amusingly, and perhaps a testament to the
stupidity of Stokes, the house was right across the road from a fire
station. But even as close as they were, firefighters could not rescue
the children as the flames spread rapidly.
Stokes was charged with one count of first degree
arson and six counts of felony murder. The murder charge means a death
was caused by the commission of a felony -- in this case, arson. Each
count of felony murder carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Prosecutor Dwight Warren, who runs the homicide unit
of the circuit attorney's office, said Stokes cannot be charged with
first degree murder -- which could carry a death sentence -- because he
had no intention to kill anyone. "We can't prove he knew anybody
was in there," said Warren.
Investigators learned at the fire scene about the
earlier fight involving Stokes and began looking for him.
Traffic Officer Tim Pratt went to Stokes' home in the
2500 block of Dodier Street. Fifteen people inside confronted the
officer. Stokes' mother was afraid the police would harm her son, but
Pratt convinced her to turn him over to police.
Stokes struggled briefly
with Pratt. It is with some amusement that I can report that the police
officer was assisted in this 'subduing' of the suspect by some of the
people in the house.
The case has not yet been heard, but it would be a
miracle if Nevelyn Stokes escapes a very long prison sentence.
As an interesting laughing point - the intended
victims were not even in the house at the time of the fire.
The Wacky World of Murder
Grief that heals
Louis Post-Dispatch - Editorial
17, 1999, Wednesday
The burgundy sedan
crawled up Blair Avenue unnoticed. It pulled over and a stocky man
wearing a scuffed hardhat and a construction jumpsuit opened the
passenger's door. He rambled up to the brick building, pressed himself
against it and gripped a pen. On a poster scribbled over with prayers
andpoems, he wrote only this: "To Family and Friends. Be Strong." Then
he bounded back into his getaway car and fled the pain.
His message joined
hundreds of prayers, holy cards, stuffed animals and flowers. They
spilled over the steps of the brick building in Hyde Park where six
children died last week.
The fire that killed
them grew out of a cycle of hatred and revenge.
The memorial that
honored them grew out of a cycle of grace and acceptance.
The fire started,
police say, after Nevelyn Stokes, 23, robbed a woman. The woman and her
boyfriend paid him back with a beating. He paid them back by burning the
woman's home - an apartment full of children.
The memorial, a raw
outpouring of grief and faith, evolved overnight. Cheryl Evans, 25, and
Denise Huber, 26, put a few dozen roses and carnations at the foot of
the brick building where the children died. Ms. Evans owns a pizza place
on the first floor of the building. The children died upstairs.
In the days and nights
since the fire and the first roses, folks have been circling the corner
of Blair Avenue and Salisbury Street. Children and adults arrive hand in
hand, depositing a Big Bird piggy bank full of coins here, a mangled
fluorescent pink teddy bear there. Ribbons and artificial flowers twist
around nearby stop signs and streetlights. Black and white neighbors
mingle, reading the prayers pasted against the windows, wiping away
silent tears, mourning for the children who will never have children of
In the silent reverence
of their grief, some also marvel at the sense of community and
acceptance around them, in a city neighborhood often known only for its
violence and poverty. They know and comforteach other. They hug and
mourn together. And all of St. Louis - a metropolitan area that
celebrates its distance from places like Hyde Park - mourns with them.
What if we mourned this
way every time a child died in our city? What if we comforted city
children this way every time they lost someone to a violent death? What
if we agonized this way every time an 18-year-old city student like Mr.
Stokes quit school and turned to crime?
Many city kids face
violence and death daily, with no memorials to mark their pain, no teddy
bears to console them. What if we channeled our grief over the six Hyde
Park children who died into compassion for their city classmates,
neighbors and friends - the children of our city who are dying slowly,
day by day?