Suspicious deaths devastate Portage neighbourhood Police work to confirm identities of three people found dead following fire
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This article was published 11/04/2022 (421 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Neighbours have expressed shock and grief over the suspicious deaths of three people whose bodies were found after a duplex fire in Portage la Prairie was extinguished early Sunday morning.
Area residents said a man, woman and two young children lived in the unit where the bodies were discovered on 7th Street S.E. in Portage, about 70 kilometres west of Winnipeg, around 1 a.m.
The couple kept to themselves after moving into the duplex a few months ago, according to people who live nearby.
Neighbours said they were devastated when they found out three people were found dead.
“I felt awful,” said Andy Landry, who lives across the street. “I saw the (couple and children) outside occasionally. I very seldom saw the children.”
In a news release, Manitoba RCMP said Monday a man who was in custody in connection with the incident has been released.
Police are working with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to confirm the identities of the three people and the cause of their deaths.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner is probing the cause of the blaze.
“We know this a very difficult time for the community,” said RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Julie Courchaine in a news release. “We want to assure the residents of Portage la Prairie that our officers are doing everything they can to move this investigation forward.”
More information is expected to be released Tuesday, said police.
The second duplex unit was home to a couple and four children, who escaped but lost everything in the fire, according to friends and a GoFundMe page set up to raise money for essentials.
“What happened was an absolute tragedy,” said neighbour Melanie Minaudier, who started the online fundraiser. “It’s the kind of thing you see on TV, not next door.”
The community is rallying around the neighbouring family by donating clothing and other items. The family was staying at a hotel after their home was damaged in the fire. The mother declined to comment.
Firefighters were already extinguishing the flames when RCMP arrived on scene early Sunday morning, a news release stated.
The bodies were found inside the home after the flames were put out, and the deaths are being treated as suspicious.
The fire department declined to comment.
Neighbours said they went outside after hearing sirens or seeing the flashing lights of fire trucks, ambulances and police cars which filled the street.
Codie Kidston, who was in her living room when emergency vehicles arrived, said she saw flames through a window of the duplex unit and smoke billowing out of the open front door while crews tackled the fire.
She watched as firefighters unfurled their water hoses and went inside the burning home.
“I bet you every fire truck in Portage was lined up here,” she said.
One of the people who died was a Grade 1 student at École Crescentview School in Portage, a letter to parents and guardians stated Monday.
“We are deeply saddened by this loss and feel great concern for the family and all impacted by this event,” the letter says, offering support to students and staff at the school.
Amid speculation in the community, Kidston and other neighbours were shocked when the RCMP announced Sunday afternoon three people were dead and a man was in custody.
“It’s a little too freaky when it’s that close,” said a man, who lives down the street and declined to give his name. “The unit was renovated, but then people moved in. They kept to themselves. I don’t know them at all.”
There was a steady stream of passersby in vehicles and on foot, as yellow police tape still surrounded the duplex and officers remained on scene Monday.
At least one forensic investigator, wearing a white full-body suit, was at the home after a team spent hours there Sunday. The street was blocked by police vehicles.
The RCMP’s major crime unit is investigating the incident.
Anyone with information is asked to call RCMP at 204-857-4445 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-8477. Tips can also be submitted at www.manitobacrimestoppers.com.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Monday, April 11, 2022 8:06 PM CDT: Adds quote