Mother Charged In Fire That Killed 2 Children - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Mother Charged In Fire That Killed 2 Children

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Billi Jo Smallwood and Nevaeh Smallwood. Nevaeh made it out of the fire that killed her brother and sister. Billi Jo Smallwood and Nevaeh Smallwood. Nevaeh made it out of the fire that killed her brother and sister.
Sam Fagan Sam Fagan
Rebekah Smallwood Rebekah Smallwood
Army Spc. Wayne Smallwood in an interview after the fire Army Spc. Wayne Smallwood in an interview after the fire

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - A federal grand jury charged a Kentucky woman with setting fire that killed her two children.

The fire happened at her home at Fort Campbell, an Army post that straddles the Kentucky and Tennessee state line.

Billi Jo Smallwood, a soldier's wife, was charged with attempting to destroy a residential facility for members of the U.S. Army.

"She intentionally destroyed a building owned and used by the U.S. government by means of fire. That would be arson to government property at Fort Campbell, Ky.  The second count alleges that she caused the death of her two children," said Kevin Kelm, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Sam Fagan, 9, and 2-year-old Rebekah Smallwood, were killed in the May 2007 fire. Smallwood's husband, Army Spc. Wayne Smallwood, was injured. He broke his leg trying to save the children.

"Everything just happened so fast that you know there was just no way to react," he said in an interview after the fire.

Wayne Smallwood  is a soldier with the Third Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. The family lived in an area of the Army post housing known as Lee Village.

"When young, elderly are sleeping those fumes overtake them, they lose consciousness and that's it. So it's very lethal, lethal environment. And it's hard to escape from it," Kelm said.

Billi Jo Smallwood also was injured. She escaped with their infant daughter, Nevaeh. She was burned and required skin grafts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

From the start, federal agents felt the fire was suspicious.

After a nearly 20-month investigation, ATF agents and military police took Smallwood into custody Tuesday morning in Gainesville, Ga.

A grand jury found "the defendant intentionally participated in an act, thinking that a person would die ... as a result of this act."

"The fact is the kids died as a result of the fire," Kelm said.

She faces life imprisonment or execution if convicted. The U.S. attorney will now likely seek the death penalty. Wayne Smallwood was not charged with any crime.

In the past, Wayne Smallwood had talked about how his wife remained strong in the wake of the fatal fire.

"Since this has happened she has been the backbone of our relationship and kept us together. And she's been the backbone to give us strength to keep us to go on," he said.

So why would a mother do such a thing?

"The government usually has a theory of the motive and will present that at trial," Kelm said.

NewsChannel 5 has learned details of two possible motives. 

The first theory was that Rebecca and Sam were Billi Jo Smallwood's children by other men. In a twisted thought, Billi Jo Smallwood may have wanted to start fresh with the couple's new infant and kill the older children.

The second theory was that Billi Jo intended to kill her husband in the fire and rescue her children. If Billi Jo's husband died, she would collect almost half-a-million dollars.

"This is a terribly tragic, tragic situation. It's bad for everyone," Kelm said.

Wayne Smallwood was present when his wife was arrested. Sources said that he does not believe she set the fire. Billi Jo Smallwood waived her right to a transfer hearing. She will return to Kentucky to face formal charges.

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