4 victims tentatively ID'd in AJ fire - CBS 5 - KPHO


4 victims tentatively ID'd in AJ fire

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Two stepbrothers and their children who died in a fire in Apache Junction on Tuesday night have been tentatively identified.

Apache Junction fire officials said it is believed the occupants of the home were Robert Shell Jr., 38; his son, Joseph, 11; Robert's stepbrother, Ricky Etris, 32; and Ricky's daughter, Angel Etris, age 7.

DNA tests are under way to confirm the identifications. All four died in a mobile home that contained an ammunition business. The victims died as a result of asphyxiation due to the lack of oxygen in the smoke-charged atmosphere.

All of the victims were found close to a door of the double-wide trailer and appeared to have been trying to get outside, but Deputy Fire Chief Dave Montgomery said he didn't know why they didn't succeed.

An Apache Junction Police Department sergeant said several explosions or "small pops" were heard by neighbors during the fire. He confirmed the ammunition business was run out of the trailer.

Montgomery said Shell and his son resided in the home, and Ricky Etris and his daughter lived across the street with his stepfather, Robert Shell Sr. Ricky Etris and his daughter frequently visited the Shells in the evening to watch movies and play video games.

The younger Robert Shell operated a Web-based business out of the home which dealt with the legal sales of mostly unique antique rifles and some handguns, Montgomery said. He also had a valid license to reload ammunition and sell the same through his online business, the deputy fire chief said. 

Investigators believe the younger Robert Shell was operating within all local and federal codes and ordinances applicable to the type of materials he regularly dealt with, Montgomery said. 

No cause had been determined, Montgomery said.

Montgomery said investigators believe the fire originated in or near the room where supplies of black powder and smokeless powders used in the ammunition reloading process were stored.

While dozens of guns were found in the fire debris, investigators do not believe the presence of these guns had any relevance in the origin or cause of the fire, Montgomery said. The amount of ammunition exploding during the fire did hamper early bystanders from approaching the home to see if any help could be rendered, according to Montgomery. 

A neighbor has set up an account to help raise money for funeral costs. For people wishing to donate, the fund is set up at Wells Fargo Bank. The account number is 7143999717.

Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

Two men, an 11-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl die in a mobile home fire in Apache Junction on Tuesday night.
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