Larry Mitchell has found some peace since his three boys were killed in May 1988, victims of arson.
“More people told me I’m here for a reason,” Mitchell, 70, told WANE 15 Thursday during a sit-down interview.
He’s grateful to homicide detective Brian Martin and the Fort Wayne Police Department after they identified Jarvis Jefferson, 19 at the time, as the man who set fire to Mitchell’s home at 2928 Central Dr. with a Molotov cocktail into the front window. Mitchell said he knew Jefferson as a child, and also knew his parents.
But he didn’t know Jefferson was the suspect, he said. Detective Martin told WANE 15 that Jefferson aka Rohi Isreal had been a suspect from the start. Even though the case is considered closed, Jefferson will not face the usual justice because he died of a drug overdose in December 2020, police said.
Mitchell approached Martin in early December after people urged him to reach out before yet another anniversary of the fire came around in May. And time was running out. His wife, Sandra Kay Mitchell, died in November 2019 after an illness.
“I’m going home to see my boys,” she told her husband just before she died. The vacant lot where their home once stood has a 7-foot-high memorial Mitchell visits along with their gravesites, he said.
The city now owns the land, but he said he’d like to get it back and turn it into a park where children can play. He recalled an instance where a neighbor told him her children heard other children laughing and playing “on the step.”
Mitchell believes it could have been spirits as though his children live on there.
At the time they were alive, Mitchell said he and his wife would take them out to restaurants. People would come up to them remarking at how well behaved they were. It’s a nice memory he has.
Jefferson threw a Molotov cocktail into the front window of the home early in the morning of May 21, 1988. Mitchell said he rushed to save his children as the smoke overtook him and firefighters told him to jump from the second story where his boys were sleeping.
The man living across the street had alerted the fire department after he ran to the closest fire station to say the house was on fire. Mitchell believes it was Jesus Christ who woke him up.
“The whole house was on fire,” Mitchell said. “It happened too fast.”
Durell Mitchell, 3, Genayle Mitchell, 5, and Jermaine Mitchell, 11, were all wearing pajamas when the firefighters reached them, according to the Allen County Coroner’s report. The three perished from smoke inhalation. Time of death was 4:28 a.m.
In the fire’s remains was a Bible, intact except for edges singed by fire. The family cat was also lost, Mitchell said.
Mitchell said Sandra’s arm was burned all the way down and her skin was repaired by skin grafts.
At the time of the fire, Mitchell worked at Dana Corporation and moved to an apartment he said the company found for him. He retired from there in 2001 and currently works for a local fast food restaurant.
“It’s something to do,” Mitchell said. Martin said he got to know Mitchell from patronizing the place and a relationship developed. When Mitchell asked him to take another look at the case, he got so involved he took the case with him on a Christmas holiday.
Mitchell plans to retire soon and volunteer for Turnstone, a facility on North Clinton, not far from where he lives.
“To all the people, you’ve got babies, children, teenagers – pray for them, hug them and say you love them,” Mitchell advised. “And pray for our city and pray for our nation.”
Mitchell’s faith is important to him. On a framed picture, there are photos of his three boys and an inscription of Psalms 17: 1-5.
“There’s too much going on now in the world,” Mitchell said. He urges people to teach their children about rappers, guns, gangs and drugs to “show them a lesson.”
“Pray for our church, school and college,” he added.