A 34-year-old mother has been locked up on arson and attempted homicide-related charges after barricading herself and her four children in their High Street apartment and then setting a fire in her bedroom, city police alleged in court papers.
Latoya Nicole Hall, of 1493 High St., was arrested on a total of 17 felony charges and committed to the Lycoming County Prison after District Judge Christian Frey denied her bail.
The mother and her children all made it out of the burning two-story structure at the southwest coroner of High Street and Wildwood Boulevard within minutes after the fire was set about 8:30 a.m. Thursday, police said. Hall and her children lived on the second floor.
“Hall set her bedroom on fire after barricading herself and her four children in the apartment,” city Patrolman Christopher Salisbury said in a criminal complaint.
Hall and her children, who ranged in ages 6 to 14, lived in the four-unit apartment building. Two of the units used High Street as an address while the other two carried the address of 681-683 Wildwood Blvd.
Before the fire was set, Hall ordered one of the children to “throw objects out a window. The mother also wanted the children to throw the family’s cats out the window, but instead one of the children took the cats out of the room,” the officer said in an affidavit.
When the mother realized that the cats had been safely removed, she “became angry and kicked all the kids out of her room,” the officer said.
One of the children told police that a short time later, she heard “a smoke alarm going off and her mom asked her to go to her room. When the child came out into the hallway, she could see smoke coming from her mother’s room,” Salisbury said. The child “could see an orange glow from the flames,” the officer said.
Hall admitted that she set fire to curtains in the apartment, the officer added.
One of the children told investigators that earlier in the week, her mother “barricaded the front door with a small table and also barricaded the children in their rooms with mattresses and wooden parts from their bunk beds,” Salisbury said. Hall also placed a large dresser in front of the front door, investigators were told.
The child told police that on Monday night, she heard her mother say “she was going to burn the house,” the affidavit stated. On the same night, Hall had told the child “to go downstairs and turn off the power to the house. This was due to Hall believing the family was being watched,” the officer said, adding that the child reluctantly did what their mother asked.
With smoke filling the hallway in the apartment, “Hall allegedly tried to keep her children from pushing the dresser way (from the door) so that they could escape the apartment,” Salisbury said investigators were told.
The mother did finally push the dresser away from the door and made some remark to one of the older children – something to the effect “she could (go), she was against her.”
Three of the children then pushed pass their mother and safely descended a set of stairs to get out, Salisbury said, adding that another child had already escaped through a bathroom window.
Flames were visible from Hall’s apartment when firefighters arrived on the scene. “Initial reports claimed the children were still inside, but it was later learned that all made it out safely,” the officer said. The fire, which was confined to the apartment, was brought under control in about 15 minutes.
Volunteer firefighters from Old Lycoming Township, Montoursville and South Williamsport assisted at the scene.
It was unknown if the adjoining apartments were damaged by smoke and water. It also was not known if other tenants were displaced by the fire. There was no information Thursday night on whether family or friends had protective custody of Hall’s children.
One city firefighter, who suffered minor injuries, was treated at UPMC Williamsport and discharged.
Hall, who is on probation, has been jailed on multiple counts of arson, attempted homicide, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and one count of causing or risking a catastrophe.