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Man charged with murder for South Side fire that killed four

Reginald Hester | Chicago Police

A man has been charged with murder and arson for the apartment building fire that left four people — including three children — dead three weeks ago in the South Chicago neighborhood.

Reginald Hester, 51, is scheduled to appear in bond court Wednesday. He faces four counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated arson causing bodily harm, all felonies, according to a statement from Chicago Police.

The blaze was reported at 1:36 a.m. Aug. 23 in the three-story, courtyard apartment building in the 8100 block of South Essex, according to the Chicago Fire Department. It was upgraded to a three-alarm fire by 1:53 a.m.

Fire officials reported heavy fire on the second and third floors, and the building’s stairwells were deemed impassable.

A 3-month-old girl who lived in the building, Melanie Watson, was taken to Comer Children’s Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 2:40 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. An autopsy showed she died from injuries from a fall from height, and smoke inhalation

The other victims — Madison Watson, 4; Shaniya Staples, 7; and Kirk Johnson, 56 — were later found dead inside the building after the fire was extinguished. Autopsies have ruled they died of burns and smoke inhalation.

All four deaths were ruled homicides, according to the medical examiner’s office.

The children were found in one apartment, but were not together, fire officials said at the time. Johnson was in a different apartment. All were on the third floor.

A 45-year-old man was taken in serious-to-critical condition to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, authorities said. Witnesses at the scene told reporters that the man jumped from a third-floor window with Melanie Watson in his arms. Another injured man, 36, was taken to South Shore Hospital in fair-to-serious condition, fire officials said.

Hester, who lives in the 8000 block of South Essex, was initially questioned immediately after the blaze, but was released two days later. He was arrested again about 11:40 a.m. Tuesday in the first block of South Waller.