Authorities said the 34-year-old mom left her children alone at their East St. Louis, Illinois home in the early morning hours of Aug. 6 — Sabrina Dunigan’s birthday.
All five of Dunigan’s children were killed in the blaze — 9-year-old Devontae, twin 8-year-old girls Heaven and Neveah (“Veah,”) 4-year-old Jabari and 2-year-old Loy-el.
Police said Dunigan is facing five counts of endangering the life or health of a child, a felony charge under Illinois law. Her bond was set at $75,000, though she was not in custody as of Friday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Authorities Blame Sabrina Dunigan for Childrens’ Deaths
According to Greg Dunigan, Sabrina’s father and the grandfather of the five children who perished, the 34-year-old mom was away from the family home at 3 a.m. when the fire began.
Greg Dunigan told the Post-Dispatch that he and his wife lived in the same apartment building as the children and their mother, but that the grandparents were staying in “separate part near the back.”
The night of the fire, Greg said Sabrina asked him and his wife to watch the children while she left to pick up her boyfriend.
“It just so happened we fell asleep,” he told reporters.
When the elder Dunigans awoke during the fire, Greg said he and his wife jumped from their second-story window to escape.
Sabrina Dunigan returned to the apartment to find her home in flames. She reportedly suffered serious burns on her arms and feet trying to rescue her five children, but was unable to reach them.
East St. Louis fire officials confirmed to KSDK that Dunigan reentered the burning apartment “several times” to try to rescue the children.
According to the St. Clair County Coroner, four of the five Dunigan kids died at the scene of the fire. The fifth was pronounced dead later at a nearby hospital.
Court documents filed by prosecutors this week alleged that Sabrina Dunigan “knowingly caused or permitted a child to be placed in circumstances that endangered the child’s life or health.”
Each of the five felony endangerment counts that she faces carries a prison penalty between two and 10 years, sources indicate. Greg Dunigan told the Post-Dispatch that Sabrina does not have a lawyer.
‘She’s Lost Everything’
Greg Dunigan said he was outraged that prosecutors decided to press charges against his daughter.
“Why are they trying to do this to her?” he said to the Post-Dispatch. “She done lost all she can lose already. Why [do] they want to take the rest away, meaning herself? She don’t have nothing left.”
Authorities Won’t Say Cause of Fire
According to local reports, St. Clair County prosecutors “[don’t] want any reports released to the public about the cause of the fire until the case is prosecuted.”
Both Sabrina Dunigan and her father believe the fire was electrical, and have said that the apartment did not have smoke detectors as required by Illinois law.
Rudy Mcintosh, the landlord and a retired East St. Louis police officer, has said that all of his units have smoke detectors.
““The bottom line is she left her babies at home,” Mcintosh told Fox2Now.
“At the end of the day, the evidence speaks for itself. The building had nothing to do with what happened to them babies,” he continued.
“That was the mother’s fault at the end of the day. She should have been at home with her kids.”