KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) - The mother of three children who died in a fire that ignited Monday afternoon while they were home alone has been accused of leaving a young child home alone before, 24 Hour News 8 has learned.
Jonetta Woods, 25, is the mother of 3-year-old twins, Taniyah and Tevin Williams, and their 1-year-old sister, Tyonna Henderson. All three children died when the home they lived in at the Interfaith Apartment complex in Kalamazoo caught fire around 2 p.m. Monday.
Woods' eldest child, a 4-year-old girl, was unharmed.
Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety investigators say they believe no one was with the children when the fire started.
Woods' family members have disputed claims that the children were left alone. They say an adult had been left with the children and that Woods had only stepped away for a short time to repay money she had borrowed from a friend who lived nearby.
A family member told 24 Hour News 8 Woods said she had been gone from the home for less than five minutes when she realized the apartment building was on fire.
While Woods could hear the kids crying inside, she told 24 Hour News 8 that she and neighbors who came to help were unable to get to them through the intense flames.
Woods said her hair was singed as she twice tried to enter the burning building, and was pulled away by responding officers.
Explaining what happened to her surviving child has been difficult, Woods said as the young girl ran about the home playing with angel wings attached to her back.
Woods said she explained to her daughter that her siblings were in heaven, but she still asks about them.
Woods had been the subject of three prior investigations involving at least one of her children. In two of the cases, she was accused of leaving at least one child home without adult supervision, a source with knowledge of the situation told 24 Hour News 8.
Complaints were investigated in 2008, 2009 and 2012.
In 2008, investigators looked into a domestic violence situation between she and the father of her now 4-year-old child.
In mid-2009, police were called to the apartment complex she lived in because an apartment employee reported constant baby crying. A maintenance worker opened the apartment and found a 1-year-old child alone in the home. The baby was hot and the air conditioning was off as the temperatures outside soared into the 90s.
At that time, Woods claimed she had only stepped away for a few minutes. She vowed to authorities not to let it happen again.
In 2012, authorities received another complaint. This one involved alleged dirty conditions, and again, children allegedly left without adult care.
It's not clear why, but Children's Protective Services never took any of the complaints to court for further action.
Woods, who says she was born in Illinois, has had two documented run-ins with the law in Michigan. In 2008, she was arrested for retail fraud, and in 2009 she was caught with open intoxicants in a vehicle, records show.
She was arrested less than two weeks prior to the fire on a bench warrant for failing to pay fines and costs related to the charges, the Kalamazoo County Prosecutors's Office told 24 Hour News 8.
Woods was taken away from her mother when she was younger and placed into the foster care system.
Prosecutors said they have not yet received reports to review in connection to the deadly fire.
The 4-year-old girl who survived the fire is in need of clothes and toys, according to Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell's Facebook page.
Hopewell's page says the girl wears size 3T clothes, size 9 shoes and a size 4T coat. Toys, educational games and clothes can be dropped off at the Mothers of Hope office located inside the Douglass Community Association at 1000 W. Paterson St.
Hopewell says those who would like to drop off cooked food or beverages can text City Commissioner Stephanie Moore at 269.760.5969.
Financial contributions may be made to the Northside Ministerial Alliance to aid the mother of the victims and the three families displaced by the fire, Hopewell said.
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