JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The loved ones of a mother, father and infant discovered in a burned-out Woodland Acres home Tuesday are preparing to bury the three.
Police confirmed Thursday that the couple and baby were killed, and they are investigating the case as a triple homicide. They have no suspects.
The house remained vacant Friday and crime scene tape was replaced with a memorial honoring the three.
An I-TEAM source and family members who were told by police said the mother and father were shot. It remains unclear how the 11-month-old baby died, but a source and the family said she suffered smoke inhalation and had an injury to her forehead.
The state fire marshal confirmed Friday that the fire is suspicious in nature, but the exact cause has not been determined. The fire marshal said samples were taken to help investigators identify possible accelerants used.
Firefighters answering a call about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at a home on India Avenue near Arlington Expressway learned a Christmas tree had caught fire.
Homicide detectives were notified after firefighters discovered the three bodies inside the home. Police identified the woman as 19-year-old Ariyan Johnson; the man as her fiance, 20-year-old Quasean Trotter; and the child as the couple's daughter, Arielle.
Sgt. David Smith previously said investigators suspected foul play, but noted there were no signs of forced entry. He added that the soot made it difficult to look around inside.
Police confirmed Thursday morning that the three were murdered.
"The whole world just crashed on us at 10 o'clock. That they're treating this as a triple homicide made it worse," Mario Peterson, Johnson's grandfather, told News4Jax. "This is the worst moment in my life because I love my granddaughter and my great-grandbaby. And just two weeks ago, I held them both in my arms."
Katrina Peterson, Johnson's grandmother, added, "She was a very beautiful young lady, sweet. I'm going to miss her so much."
Mario Peterson said the family is asking for political help to get Johnson's father, who is in prison in the Florida Panhandle, brought to Jacksonville to attend the funeral.
“I’ve recently been in touch with congressman Al Lawson’s office, and they have agreed to assist me on a lot of situations,” Mario Peterson said.
Lawson's office released the following statement
I was deeply troubled to learn of the tragic events that took place on December 12th that took the lives of Ariyan Johnson, Quasean Latrelle Trotter, and their 11-month-old daughter, Arielle Trotter. My heart goes out to the families and friends of the Johnson and Trotter families. Know that I am praying for your peace during this most difficult time. I have every hope that JSO is working diligently to bring those responsible to justice. I and my office are actively working with the family to the extent that we can be helpful.
Mario Peterson said his family is torn and many loved ones have spent every night crying since they learned of the deaths.
Trotter's sister told News4Jax her brother was the type of person whose energy would light up a room.
"Houses are close and there’s no way nobody saw or heard nothing. There’s no way," Trotter's sister said. "Somebody needs to start talking because of the babies, and if that was your child?"
Jacksonville homicide detectives and the fire marshal are conducting separate investigations inside the India Avenue home.
Outside, family members held a vigil Thursday evening.
"(The) only thing I want to say to ... whoever did this here, 'God got his hands on everything. And when you put your faith in God, and trust in God, God going to make it all right,'" said Vanessa Hampton, Johnson's aunt. "JSO going to do their job and bring them in."
Loved ones lit candles and prayed as they gathered to remember the family of three.
"We're all just trusting in God. When you walk with God, you walk by faith and not by sight," Hampton said. "(Johnson's) mom is distraught because that's her only daughter. She had five sons and one daughter. That's her firstborn, her oldest child."
Family members described Johnson as an entrepreneur, saying she was running an online boutique. Loved ones said the couple had been dating for a few years and were very serious.
"Everybody loved them," said Toussaint Stringfield, Johnson's cousin. "Their relationship was something you could look up to because they were young and mature in their situation."
Through tears, family members pleaded with the public for answers. They said they held the vigil outside the home to bring attention to the case, hoping neighbors will come forth with information.
"It's definitely foul play," Stringfield said. "Whatever happened, I pray it comes to light so we can have a peace of mind."
Anyone with information about the triple homicide is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 904-630-0500 or email JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org. To remain anonymous and receive a possible reward of up to $3,000, contact Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS.