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Authorities suspect homicide, arson in Winchester fire

Police and the Winchester Fire Marshal's Office have executed two search warrants in the investigation of a fatal house fire at 300 N. Kent St., shown above, earlier this week. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Winchester City Fire Marshal Jeremy Luttrell speaks during a press conference Friday morning regarding the fire at 300 North Kent St. that claimed the life of a child earlier this week. Behind Luttrell is Winchester Police Sgt. Frank Myrtle. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Stuffed animals line the porch steps outside 300 N. Kent St. in Winchester where a fire claimed the life of a 2-year-old child. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Joe Beck

An investigation into a fatal residential fire at 300 N. Kent St. in Winchester this week is being treated as a homicide and arson investigation, according to documents filed in Circuit Court on Friday afternoon.

The documents state that authorities executed search warrants at the address of the fire that took the life of 2-year-old Christian Cruz.

Christian was pronounced dead at Winchester Medical Center from his injuries. His mother, Sherry Cruz, also was taken to Winchester Medical Center along with one other occupant of the residence. Sherry Cruz later was transported to a burn center for additional treatment.

The first search warrant was executed at the Kent Street address, according to the court document. It states that authorities obtained the search warrant "in relation to an offense substantially described" as homicide and arson.

The inventory of items seized at the residence includes a red gas can, burn debris from a carpet, cloth material and wooden flooring, all from the residence's living room. More burn debris were taken from the kitchen. The inventory also lists a plastic bottle among the burn debris.

The search warrant affidavit submitted by Winchester police Sgt. Frank Myrtle states that he confirmed through dispatchers that emergency personnel responded to the same address on June 8 after someone reported smelling gas.

The affidavit also states: "A call was received into dispatch the previous evening at this address (concerning) a possible assault involving several juveniles."

A second, later search warrant executed at a Winchester Medical Center trash compactor recovered no items. It states that authorities were seeking "a red or orange sun dress with a flower pattern with thin shoulder straps belonging to Sherry Cruz."

Myrtle's affidavit for the second search warrant states, "that a strong odor of flammable liquid was detected in the living room area in different areas" by investigators at the Kent Street residence.

"An irregular burn pattern was observed in the same area in which the flammable liquid was detected," Myrtle wrote.

Myrtle also stated that employees at Winchester Medical Center told Assistant Fire Marshal Matt Gearhart that they had removed a red or orange sundress from Sherry Cruz and placed it in a trash compactor.

The affidavit states that Cruz was the only adult inside the residence at the time of the fire.

"A search of this compactor is requested to locate the clothing Sherry Cruz was wearing to determine if a flammable liquid was present," Myrtle wrote.

Police and fire officials conducted a news conference earlier Friday at which they disclosed the execution of the search warrant, but few other details of the investigation.

"The fire on Tuesday was very tragic, as a child lost his life and two others were injured," Fire Marshal Jeremy Luttrell said.

Luttrell said the evidence collected at the Kent Street residence was sent to the state forensic laboratory for analysis.

Luttrell asked anyone with information about the fire to call Myrtle at 545-4717 or Gearhart 545-4712.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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