Oak Lawn police are investigating an apparent murder-suicide in which the bodies of four family members, including a child, were recovered from the smoldering ruins of a home that burned to the ground early Wednesday morning.
Police said a couple in their 60s and a 5-year-old boy found inside the charred house had been gunned down.
Another family member reportedly killed himself in front of an off-duty deputy fire chief who arrived at the scene to help his fellow firefighters.
The night before the fire, family gathered at the home to celebrate the child's birthday.
Watch video of the Wednesday afternoon press conference.
Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray said a call of smoke coming from a house in the 9800 block of South 51st Avenue was received at 5:16 a.m.
The deputy fire chief, a longtime fire department employee, heard the dispatch on his way to work and was at the house within seconds of the first dispatch.
Murray said the fire deputy entered the garage where he encountered a man sitting inside a car. When the firefighter opened the car door, the man took his own life with a shotgun. No other weapons were found in the home.
Firefighters found a second male victim in a hallway and were able to pull him outside. When the fire grew too hot to look for other occupants, firefighters exited the house and began knocking back the flames.
Both the roof and main level of the house collapsed into the basement before the fire was extinguished. Investigators and fire crews remained at the scene throughout the day as a crane dug through the debris looking for the reported missing family members and evidence.
The bodies of the woman and child were recovered from the basement later in the afternoon. Both were believed to have been on the home's main level before it collapsed into the basement.
The 5-year-old boy was found in the rubble of what had been the first-floor middle bedroom.
"There is no threat to the community,” the police chief said. “This is believed to be a single incident that happened inside this house.”
Oak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets described the morning blaze as a “hectic fire.” Firefighters’ efforts were hampered by a frozen hydrant and other weather conditions.
“This is certainly a tragedy. It impacts the community, police and firefighters,” Sheets said. “What my employee encountered in the garage this morning was horrific.”
Sheets told Patch that family members had gathered at the home the night before to celebrate the young boy's birthday.
All four bodies were brought to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office where autopsies will be performed Thursday to determine the cause of death, Murray said.
Neighbor Barney Nolan described the couple as wholesome people who kept one of the nicest homes on the block. The couple lived in the house about 20 years, and had an adult son and daughter, both in their late 20s to early 30s.
The couple’s son had recently been staying at the house. Their grandson was also a frequent visitor, the neighbor said.
“I just saw the boy outside a few days ago,” Nolan said. “It’s really sad.”