Investigators Sift Through Ashes Of Bedford Co. Fatal Fire
BEDFORD COUNTY, Tenn. – Investigators continued to sift through the ashes of a fatal house fire in Bedford County Thursday, a day after an Endangered Child Alert was issued for two children who had been presumed dead.
Officials with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said no leads indicate that 9-year-old Chloie Leverette and 7-year-old Gage Daniel are alive, but the alert was issued "under an abundance of caution." Investigators will hand sift through the ashes Thursday and Friday as they continue to search for the children's remains.
Anthropologists from the University of Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State University have been brought in to assist State Bomb and Arson investigators as well as the Bedford County Sheriff's Office and the TBI.
The siblings were last seen by a neighbor around 6:30 p.m. Sunday night near their home. Investigators said the fire started three hours later.
NewsChannel 5 learned Chloie showed up for school last Friday, but Gage did not.
TBI officials also said they have questioned the children's mother, and they believe she doesn't have the children or know where they are.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol flew over the area Wednesday with a helicopter using infrared cameras to search for the bodies. Investigators used cadaver dogs to search the home Tuesday.
The bodies of the children's grandparents, 72-year-old Leon McClaran and 70-year-old Molly McClaran, were found in the rubble on Monday.
The fire was very intense and quickly collapsed the walls of the house. Firefighters spent several hours battling the flames overnight Sunday and early Monday, but they were hindered because the house sat far back from the road and was not near a hydrant.
The cause of the fire has not been determined, but Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce has said he believed it was accidental.
Even in an intense fire, some bones and teeth should remain, although finding them may be extremely difficult, said Dr. William Bass, who founded the Body Farm research facility at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where researchers study the decomposition of corpses in a variety of circumstances to aid scientific and criminal research.
"When you cremate a body in a crematorium, and it is cooling down, when you open the door, you can still identify the bones even if they are children," he said.
A child's skeleton contains many more bones than an adult skeleton, and bones and teeth shrink in size when exposed to fire, so the bones the investigators are looking for could be only a couple of inches long, he said.
Family members told The Associated Press that the McClarans were raising their step-grandchildren because they needed a home and described them as generous people who loved their family. Relatives of the McClarans said the girl also used the last name Pope.
The state Department of Children's Services investigated the mother of the two children and Daniel's father between 2006 and 2010, said spokesman Brandon Gee. Gee would not release the names of the parents.
He would not say why the parents were investigated, but said the agency was sharing information with law enforcement involved in their search. He confirmed that the McClarans had custody of the two children, but he said DCS has never taken custody of them nor placed them in a home.
Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Chloie and Gage, please contact the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.