Boy's death in N. Baltimore house fire is ruled a homicide Authorities originally thought he died in blaze


A 3-year-old boy who officials initially thought had died in a North Baltimore fire Friday was killed before the blaze began, and the death has been ruled a homicide, investigators said yesterday.

James Simon, who was home with a baby sitter and another adult in an apartment, died of a head injury and not the fire that damaged the rowhouse in the 900 block of St. Dunstans Road, said Dr. John Locke, of the state medical examiner's office.

"The injuries sustained by the 3-year-old were not consistent to that of being burned to death," said Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman.

He said an autopsy "failed to find smoke in the child's lungs," which the spokesman said is a "strong indication that the child's death may not have been accidental."

On Friday, fire investigators said they believed the one-alarm fire started while the child was playing with lighter fluid. According to early reports, James was playing by himself in a basement in the Govans house when the fire erupted about 3:45 p.m.

Four adults in the house escaped unharmed.

The boy's mother, Donna Jones of O'Donnell Heights, had left the child with a baby sitter, Rhonda Nichols, 28, who lived in a second-floor apartment at the house with the boy's uncle, Gerald Harris, 30.

After escaping from the house, Ms. Nichols and Mr. Harris told a first-floor tenant that the boy was inside. The tenant, Lamont Strong, 25, said he and another man kicked down the rear door in an effort to save the boy.

Family members could not be reached for comment yesterday, and police and fire officials were tight-lipped about the investigation, now in the hands of the homicide unit.

Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a Fire Department spokesman, refused to comment.

Agent Weinhold would not comment on the cause of the fire, a possible motive or if anyone is a suspect.

No arrests had been made yesterday.

"We are still in the very early, sensitive stages of the investigation," Agent Weinhold said.

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