Police: Deceased M'ville family had just moved into rental home

2013-10-17T14:45:00Z 2013-10-21T14:49:09Z Police: Deceased M'ville family had just moved into rental homeDeborah Laverty deborah.laverty@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2223 nwitimes.com

MERRILLVILLE | Janet Yaros sensed something was wrong this week when she didn't see any activity from the family who moved in next door over the weekend.

She said her worst fears were confirmed Wednesday night when she learned the family of four had died,apparently from carbon monoxide poisoning, in the house they were renting at 825 W. 70th Ave.

"They were the nicest family," Yaros said.

The bodies of Micheal Nichols, 41, Kennetha Purnell, 38, Matthew Nichols, 13, and Morgan Nichols, 11, were discovered inside the house, according to a news release issued late Wednesday night by the Lake County coroner's office.

Autopsy results could be released as early as Friday, a coroner's spokesman said.

The mother and sister of Kennetha Purnell came to the house after not hearing from their loved ones for several days, Yaros said.

"We were called and asked to do a wellness check on behalf of the family," Police Chief Joseph Petruch said.

Police went inside the house and found all four family members dead.

The preliminary investigation indicated the cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning, Petruch said.

"It's an unfortunate incident," Petruch said.

Police detective Cmdr. Jeff Rice said it appears the source of the carbon monoxide was a generator that officials found in the home's garage.

Rice said the rental house did not yet have power, and the family had purchased a generator Saturday after just moving into their new home.

The family most likely died Saturday night, Rice said.

"There was no foul play. It appears to be an unfortunate accident," Rice said.

He said the generator was inside an attached garage and had power cords going to several electronic devices, with all the home's exterior doors and windows closed.

The family, who were from Gary, had previously lived in a house with a Merrillville relative so the two children could attend Merrillville schools, Rice said. 

Matthew was an eighth-grader at Pierce Middle School and his sister, Morgan, was a sixth-grader at Merrillville Intermediate School, Merrillville School Superintendent Mark Sperling said.

Sperling said everyone in the school system is saddened by the news.

"Obviously, both schools have been grieving today. We had additional social workers and counselors in both buildings. We met with all youngsters first thing this morning at Pierce and MIS," Sperling said.

Sperling said he also sent out a phone message to all parents to make them aware so they could provide support at home to youngsters.

The mood at Chicago State University, where Purnell was employed, also was sad as employees learned the news of her death and that of her family, Director of Public Relations Tom Wogan said.

Purnell's mother, Rosemary Purnell, also works at the university in the criminal justice department.

Neither Rosemary Purnell nor other family members could be reached for comment on Thursday.

"Her (Kennetha's) passing touched a lot of departments," Wogan said.

Kennetha Purnell served as assistant to the Dean of the College of Education where she was more than just a model employee, Wogan said in a released statement.

"The tragic event has touched every part of our campus community and we join now in mourning Ms. Purnell, her two children, Matthew and Morgan Nichols, and their father, Micheal Nichols," the statement said.

Information on memorial services will be forthcoming, Wogan said.

Petruch cautioned anyone using a generator to make sure it's out in the open and at least 10 yards from the house.

"Never use a generator in a closed space or a garage," Petruch said.

Unlike in Illinois, carbon monoxide detectors are not required in homes in Indiana. Since 2007, Illinois has required the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in homes and rental properties.

Similar legislation was introduced in Indiana in 2011 that would have required the installation of the devices in homes, hotels and motels, but the legislation never made it out of committee.

Staff Writer Carmen McCollum contributed to this report. 

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