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Fire deaths at Ohio home were a double homicide and suicide, investigators say

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

The deaths of a couple and their toddler inside a fire-gutted Columbus home Wednesday are considered to be a double homicide and a suicide, detectives said Thursday.

Nerissa Distin, 33, Gary C. Morris, 42, and the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Serina Morris, were found dead inside the family’s home at 3380 Retriever Road on the Southeast Side. The fire was first reported about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Distin and Serina “are now being considered the subjects of homicide investigations,” Columbus police homicide detectives said in a news release.

“Preliminary investigation efforts have determined that Gary Morris’ actions resulted in his own death,” the release added.

The investigation shifted following preliminary findings from the three autopsies conducted Thursday by the Franklin County coroner’s office.

Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin said the autopsies determined that at least one of the three died from a cause not related to the fire, but he declined to say who it was.

Authorities aren’t yet releasing additional information about the causes of death for the three. They also haven’t said what caused the fire.

The bodies of Distin and Gary Morris were found inside the home shortly after firefighters arrived at the home. About 90 minutes later, Serina’s body was discovered.

Dave Wheeler, who lives across the street from the home, said that when he first realized the house was ablaze, he ran over and banged on the door.

He said the door was locked and flames were visible inside the two-story home.

“I’m kicking myself that I didn’t go around and try the back door,” Wheeler said.

It might not have helped. The back of the home was engulfed in flames before firefighters arrived and had significant damage, next-door neighbor Jerry Willey said.

He said he heard an explosion that sounded like a car hitting the side of his home shortly before the flames became visible.

“It blew the garage door off its moorings,” Willey said.

Three people called 911 to report the blaze and said they had heard a loud noise before seeing flames.

“We can’t see anything but the flames on the inside,” one caller said.

Martin said there is evidence that an explosion occurred, but it’s not known whether the fire caused the explosion or an explosion started the fire.

Willey had first met the family when they were looking to buy the home in late summer. The family moved there in August.

The couple had Jamaican roots and Willey described them as friendly, stopping to say hello when they were outside.

Distin worked as a registered nurse at Mount Carmel Rehabilitation Hospital and her husband worked in commercial printing, Willey said.

Mount Carmel Rehabilitation Hospital CEO Angie Bridges said in an emailed statement to The Dispatch that the staff at the hospital is devastated by Distin’s death.

“Nerissa was a compassionate nurse who was committed to helping our patients during challenging points in their lives,” Bridges wrote. “She will be missed dearly by our team, and our thoughts are with her friends and loved ones.”

Distin and Morris each had a child from prior relationships. Both of those children, believed to be teenagers, were not home at the time of the fire and are safe, authorities said.

Dispatch Reporter Holly Zachariah contributed to this report.

bbruner@dispatch.com

@bethany_bruner