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Murder charges filed in fatal Waterloo fire in April (PHOTOS)

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WATERLOO — Police have arrested a Waterloo woman for allegedly setting a fire that killed a mother and her young son in April.

Waterloo police arrested Denise Susanna O’Brien, 41, on charges of two counts of first-degree murder Monday.

Authorities allege O’Brien was behind a fire started on the porch at 536 Dawson St. on the morning of April 22. The blaze killed Ashley Smith and her 9-year-old son, Jaykwon Sallis.

Court records show O’Brien had been involved in an ongoing dispute with one of the residents and had been the subject of a restraining order barring her from going to the house. O’Brien thought her ex-boyfriend was dating Teryn Netz, who also lived at the house, according to court records.

The murder charges came a week after a judge found O’Brien guilty of misdemeanor criminal mischief for allegedly damaging the home at about 5:50 a.m. April 13. In that case, officers arrived to find a piece of metal had been used to break a 3-by-5-foot window and a 48-inch Samsung TV. Officers also found blood on a piece of glass.

Witnesses identified O’Brien as the person behind the damage, and police noticed she had a fresh cut on her arm when they approached her later that day. She refused a DNA test and told officers she hurt her arm falling at her apartment complex.

On the night before the fire, O’Brien allegedly returned to the Dawson Street home because she thought her ex-boyfriend was there. She became involved in a fight with two people and eventually left.

The following morning, a passerby noticed flames coming from the porch at about 6:30 a.m. and called 911. Occupants Willie Phillips, 36, Netz, 31, and a 12-year-old girl escaped the house by climbing out a back second-story window. Firefighters pulled Smith and Jaykwon from the home, but they later died.

O’Brien was arrested April 23 for allegedly violating the restraining order by going to the house, and she has remained in jail since.


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