Man charged with murder in house fire that killed three

Casey Grove

A 19-year-old has been charged with murder for starting the house fire last month that killed three people, including a child, in the western Alaska village of Nunam Iqua.

A Bethel grand jury handed up a 17-count felony indictment Thursday against Derek W. Adams charging him with second-degree murder, first-degree arson and third-degree assault.

Three people died in the early morning fire June 28: Cyprian Ignatius, 8; Joseph Ignatius, 43; and Edward Murphy, 25, Alaska State Troopers said. Fire officials said a total of 14 people were in the house at the time of the fire, which neighbors tried to fight with buckets and hoses. Smoke inhalation sent three people to a hospital, according to the state Division of Fire and Life Safety.

In a June 28 post on his Facebook page, Adams sounded surprised.

"Man that sucks it was like all of a sudden and it hurt too my prayers to the peeps who didn't make it and the whole family."

Nunam Iqua, with a population of about 200, sits at the mouth of the Yukon River.

The burned, three-bedroom house was smaller than 1,000 square feet, state Fire Marshal Kelly Nicolello said. A deputy fire marshal worked with St. Mary's troopers for four or five days investigating the fire, Nicolello said. Interviews with witnesses and Adams, as well as physical evidence discovered at the fire scene led to the charges in the indictment, the fire marshal said.

Adams had been drinking, said Nicolello, who declined to elaborate on details of the case, including what motive Adams might have had.

"Charges aren't brought about anything unless there is evidence to support it," Nicolello said. "We're not going to present our case publicly. It'll happen in a court of law."

Dorothy Murphy, one of the survivors, said Adams was drunk, but she did not know why he might have lit the fire. When Adams left to go home, the family locked the door and went to bed, Murphy said.

"He went out on his own. I guess he wanted to try to go home, but I guess it was locked and he tried to come back in," Murphy said.

It was unclear if Adams was angry and intended to start the fire, or if it had been an accident, Murphy said. She woke to find the home filled with smoke. The blaze broke out near an entrance, troopers said.

"I heard cracking, and that woke me up. The windows were cracking, making noise," Murphy said. "It was really thick and hard to breathe."

The survivors escaped through a window, Murphy said. Murphy and her son were flown to a hospital in Bethel for medical treatment for smoke inhalation, she said. Just before the medevac flight, Murphy said she found out that her three family members had died.

Three weeks later, on Friday, Murphy said that the smoke and flames were still fresh in her mind.

"We're just taking one day at a time," she said.

Adams is jailed in Bethel at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Correction Center, with bail set at $500,000.

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.