GARY | Two Lake Station men have been charged with murder, murder in the perpetration of an arson and arson in the July 25 deaths of Bernice King and Angel Harris in a fire at Lakeshore Dunes Apartments.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson announced the charges Thursday at Gary City Hall.
Trevontay D. Milsap, 19, and Rafael Peluyera, 20, were charged in Superior Court of Lake County. Milsap is in Gary police custody and Peluyera is a patient at a local hospital under police guard.
Police said Milsap has made a statement.
Detective James Nielsen of the Gary Police Department tracked down the suspects because community members came forward with information, said Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram.
The men allegedly set the fire after a disagreement with King’s 17-year-old son, Antonio Harris, over the exchange of a half-ounce of marijuana and an Xbox 360 Nielsen said. The deal, which was worth $80, soured because the Xbox 360 wasn’t functioning, he said.
“Payment (for the marijuana) was not received on time,” Nielsen said.
The disagreement began July 23 and led to a physical altercation on July 24. The probable cause affidavit said there had been multiple reports of fights and shots fired on the block a few days before the incident that may have been connected to the disagreement.
Milsap and Peluyera allegedly returned to the apartment building late July 25 and poured an accelerant on the staircase of on the south side of the two-story building in the Miller complex.
Earlier reports of a Molotov cocktail thrown against the apartment door were inaccurate, Deputy Fire Chief Darryl Smith said.
The type of accelerant is being analyzed, Fire Inspector Stephen Johnson said.
“The whole building was targeted,” Nielsen said.
Relative told police Bernice King, 37, helped five other children escape by having them jump from a bedroom window. King chose to stay with her 14-year old daughter, Angel, who couldn’t rescue herself because of severe asthma.
Social media played a key role in the investigation and swift capture of the suspects, Ingram said.
“You can’t underestimate the power of text messaging,” the chief said. Postings were also made to Facebook. Nielsen followed up on the text messages and Facebook accounts, he said.
Because the weather was so balmy, a number of people were outside that night, Ingram said. “It was a nice night. They saw a lot.”
The investigation remains active and has involved the Gary Police Department, Gary Fire Department, the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, the Indiana State Fire Marshall, the Lake County prosecutor’s Office, the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Freeman-Wilson said if convicted Milsap and Peluyera each face 35 to 60 years in prison for the murder charges and prison time of 25 to 50 years on the arson charges.