An Iowa man is accused of killing his stepsister and her cousin in a fatal house fire, according to multiple reports
An Iowa man is accused of killing his stepsister and her cousin in a fatal house fire, according to multiple reports.
Patrick Ryan Thompson, 26, of Ames, was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of arson on Wednesday for a May house fire, CBS reports.
Cousins Shakiah Cockerham, 16, and 12-year-old Melanie “Paige” Exline, both of Guthrie Center, died May 15 after their home was engulfed in flames, KCCI reports.
The fire was allegedly started as a result of family drama, the outlet reports.
“This family has been torn for a long time, and this is a terrible way for the girls to go,” Mandy Long, a cousin of the two girls, told KCCI.
In April, Paige’s brother and Thompson’s stepbrother, Noah Exline, 19, was charged with seven counts of second-degree sexual abuse against his sister, KCCI reports. She was said to be the sole witness in the criminal case against her alleged abuser.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Inside the house at the time of the fire were the two girls, their uncle, William Long III, 54, and their grandmother, 74-year-old Shirley Exline.
“All I know, we couldn’t get back in,” Shirley told the Register of the fire. “It seemed like seconds that the whole house was in flames.”
Shakiah had lived with her grandmother since she was a baby, the Register reports. Paige had recently moved in with Shirley and had previously lived with her father and brothers. Shirley was fighting to gain custody of Paige before she died, according to the newspaper.
On May 27, a memorial was held for the girls that was attended by 150 people.
“It’s two young girls who hadn’t even started living yet,” Janet Dudley, a family friend, told the Register.
It is unclear at this time whether James has entered a plea or obtained an attorney. Noah has pled not guilty to the charges and attorney could not be reached by PEOPLE. It is unclear if Thompson has retained an attorney or how he pleads in the case.