A press conference was held, Thursday, January 21, at the State Fairgrounds in Lewisburg where Greenbrier County Sheriff Bruce Sloan provided the results of the investigation related to the Williamsburg house fire that occurred last month.
Also present at the press conference were Justin England, an investigator from the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s office, First Sgt. Gary Evans, Lt. Gary Workman, Cpl. Steve Huddenall and Greenbrier County Prosecutor Patrick Via.
The fire, which took place on the afternoon of December 8 at the residence located at 611 Flynn’s Creek Road, revealed what officials have now confirmed to be five homicides and one suicide.
Sloane provided a timeline of events leading up to the fire, and outlined the subsequent recovery efforts which resulted in the discovery of the six victims; being one adult woman and five children, the oldest of whom was seven-years-old.
“First responders deal with tragedies routinely,” Sloan said, shortly after the press conference began. “Any time it has to do with children it makes it all the more worse.”
The first victim identified was that of Oreanna Antoinette Myers, 25, of Williamsburg, who had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Myers’ body was found at a picnic table on the property near the home.
The fire decimated the two-story home, leaving practically nothing identifiable in its wake, and making recovery efforts extremely difficult for search teams.
“(During the search) the air temperature was extremely cold, but the scene was still very hot from the fire,” Sloan said.
According to Sloan, there was initial confusion surrounding the number of children who were in the home at the time of the fire. Nonetheless, first responders began searching the debris and surrounding areas for five children in the hopes that they had managed to escape the blaze. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
By Saturday, December 12, the remains of all five children had been identified. Investigators later confirmed that all five children had died before the fire was started, all from gunshot wounds. The children were ages seven, six, four, three and one-year.
Myers was the biological mother of three of the children and the step-mother of two of the children. Pellets from a 410 single-shot shotgun were found in all six of the victims, forensically-confirming that Myers had shot each of the five children with the same weapon she used to shoot herself.
Sloan confirmed that the weapon had been in the family’s possession for many years.
Of the difficulties involved with locating the five child-victims, Greenbrier County Prosecutor Patrick Via said, “While it was traumatic, there was no way they (first responders and investigators) were going to close that scene until all five children were located and secured.”
Although Myers had no documented history of mental illness, several text messages and letters read by Sloan during the press conference indicate that Myers was having a difficult time with her current family structure and potentially experiencing some form of depression.
A portion of a text message sent by Myers to Brian Baumgardner, Myers’ husband and father of the five children, states, “Sorry I wasn’t strong enough, Brian.”
Investigators also discovered several ziploc bags at the scene which contained handwritten letters from Myers.
One letter, entitled “my confession”, states, “I shot all the boys in the head. I shot myself in the head. I’m sorry. Mental health is serious.”
Another letter, written specifically to Baumgardner, reads, “I’m so sorry, Brian. I’m sorry I failed you and I’m sorry I failed our handsome boys.”
The Charleston Medical Examiner’s office has ruled Myers’ death a suicide and the five children’s deaths to be homicide. The West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s office has also determined that the fire was intentionally set, therefore ruling it as an act of arson. The Greenbrier County Sheriff’s office considers the case now to be closed.
The West Virginia Daily News will provide more details, including the timeline of search efforts and the investigation, in the coming days.