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$5M bond for man charged with killing 2 kids in Kankakee fire

Alex Sawyer | Kankakee police

Bond was set at $5 million Thursday for a 61-year-old man charged with murder and arson in connection with a fire that left two young boys dead earlier this month in downstate Kankakee.

Alex Sawyer faces two counts of murder and four counts of aggravated arson for the April 13 fire that killed 2-year-old Ju’shaun Watson and 4-year-old Justice Stewart and injured eight others, including three firefighters, authorities said.

Judge Kathy Elliott ordered Sawyer held on a $5 million bond at a hearing Thursday, and also ordered an evaluation to see if the Kankakee resident is mentally fit to stand trial, according to Kankakee County Circuit Court records. He is scheduled for arraignment May 16.

Investigators think the motive for setting the fire was revenge, but Kankakee Fire Chief Ron Young did not elaborate in a statement announcing charges on Tuesday.

The boys were airlifted to the hospitals with severe burns following the fire, which started about 1:45 a.m. in the rear stairwell of a two-story building in the 800 block of West Station Street, Young said.

When firefighters arrived, they saw smoke billowing from the second floor and residents hanging out windows, Young said.

Ju’shaun was pronounced dead at 12:10 p.m. April 17 at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood; and 4-year-old Justice Stewart died at 3:54 p.m. April 15 at Comer Children’s Hospital, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

An autopsy for Justice on did not rule on cause and manner of death, with results pending further investigation. Autopsy results for Ju’shaun haven’t been released.

In addition to the boys, a 65-year-old woman suffered smoke inhalation; a 25-year-old man burned his hands and jumped out of a window; a 22-year-old woman burned her hands; and three others suffered injuries in the fire. Their conditions were stabilized at hospitals, Young said.

Three firefighters were also treated for injuries they suffered while battling the blaze, which took about 90 minutes to put out, Young said. Twenty-two people were displaced.