'Thought fire was cool:' Green Bay 15-year-old accused in arson that killed 11-month-old nephew

BROWN COUNTY -- Charges of first-degree intentional homicide and arson were filed Tuesday, March 4 against Marcelia Flora Fonseca, 15, of Green Bay, in connection with a fire that killed her 11-month-old nephew.

The fire happened shortly before 7:30 a.m. on June 7, 2019 at a home on Wisconsin Avenue in Green Bay -- a rental property owned by a Milwaukee woman.

A criminal complaint said there were 10 people in the home at the time -- Marcelia, the grandmother, grandfather, Marcelia's mother, the baby's mother, and five other children, including the baby -- with approximate ages of 17, 15, 14, and 6. The baby and three others had to be taken to the hospital after the fire -- Marcelia's 17-year-old sister, the baby's mother, and Marcelia's mother.

The baby was treated in the PICU before life support was removed. The complaint said the baby, found in a second-floor bedroom, suffered burns across 100% of his body ranging from first-degree to third-degree, and smoke inhalation.

An investigation revealed the fire started in a second-floor bedroom near where a metal/wire laundry/grocery cart filled with combustible contents was located. The cause was determined to have been incendiary -- with flame applied to the combustible materials.

Statement from next-door neighbors

Investigators spoke with a couple living next door, who said they heard screaming coming from the house that morning, and Marcelia ran up to them, saying her nephew was in the house, and it was on fire. She screamed, "My nephew, my nephew -- help get a ladder! The baby is in the attic bedroom."

The male neighbor called 911 and got a ladder, the complaint said, with the family already evacuated from the home -- some of them covered in soot. The male neighbor wasn't able to climb the ladder. One of the female residents of the home tried climbing it, but the first firefighter arrived at the scene -- so they let firefighters take over. The neighbors reported thick, black smoke coming from an open upper window, and flames showing by the time firefighters arrived. Neighbors noted they didn't feel the home was well-maintained. They said they often heard a lot of yelling coming from the home and said the 6-year-old thought Marcelia was "the devil," who had attacked them.

Prosecutors said Marcelia admitted she tried to kill her sister when the sister was 5 and Marcelia was 6. Marcelia said she "wanted her dead" and put a pillow over her head -- and wasn't upset about it, telling investigators, "I was trying to kill her," according to the complaint.

The neighbors said Marcelia was "the calmest they've ever seen her act" after the fire, and told them the Red Cross gave the family some money.

They noted that a second-floor window was open for at least a week before the fire, with no screen. They said it was often open in the winter. That disputes a statement prosecutors said Marcelia made, indicating she opened a window the morning of the fire. The neighbors could not recall seeing a fan in the window -- contradicting a statement made by Marcelia's mother, the complaint said.

Statement from 17-year-old sister of Marcelia

The complaint referenced a toddler bed found in the hallway on the second floor near the bedroom the baby was in at the time of the fire. The 17-year-old sister of Marcelia told investigators the baby slept on a Pack 'n Play style crib in the bedroom -- and she burned her hands on the walls of the hallway and doorknob as she tried to reach the baby amid the fire.

She said she was in the bathroom that morning when someone yelled, "Fire," and she and her mom raced upstairs to try to get to the baby.

She said Marcelia was downstairs "freaking out," the complaint said.

Statement from baby's mother

The complaint said the baby's mother was initially hesitant to answer questions -- indicating the fire was sparked by faulty electrical wiring, and they planned on suing the landlord.

She said she had been living there since June, but prior to that, she would stay there off and on.

According to the complaint, she noted there was a fan blowing air into the bedroom where the baby slept from the window, and a metal cart that had been filled with random items from her move. She noted there was no smoking allowed in the baby's bedroom when the baby was present. She said the night before the fire, they burned some old wooden chairs in a burn pit with lighter fluid, the complaint said.

She also told investigators the fire "is not the first case that we've had." She said the same thing happened in a bedroom/laundry room when someone plugged a phone into the outlet and it sparked -- so they stopped using it.

According to the complaint, she said Marcelia reported smelling smoke, and no one was cooking, and she didn't know where it was coming from. She said there was smoke coming down the stairs leading to the second floor -- and she and two others, including the 17-year-old, tried to get to the baby, but there was too much smoke. She said Marcelia never tried to go to the second floor.

Once outside and firefighters arrived, she said Marcelia yelled at her because the baby was still inside -- telling the woman, "He was not her son, and it was not her responsibility to get him out," according to prosecutors.

Statement from Marcelia

The complaint said investigators learned, in the wake of the fire, the grandparents and Marcelia had been transported to the hospital, but Marcelia could not be found. It was learned she was taken by Family Services officials to day treatment where she attends school.

First statement

According to the complaint, Marcelia initially indicated she went to the baby's room, went downstairs to get a bottle, and then went back upstairs, giving the baby the bottle, and turning on a movie for the child.

The baby's mother said she had no idea Marcelia had been up there -- noting she did not hear the baby wake up, and "would have heard him crying." She noted Marcelia was "nosy and goes through everything," telling investigators clothing, money, and jewelry had been stolen in the past. She also indicated Marcelia suffered from anger issues and ADHD, the complaint said.

Marcelia elaborated that on the morning of the fire, she heard the baby cry, and could smell smoke as she got ready for day treatment. She said she checked the oven and went to her mother. As smoke came down the stairs, Marcelia said her 17-year-old sister burned her hands and Marcelia burned her leg as they tried to get the baby's bedroom door open, but they never made it inside, according to the complaint.

Second statement

In a second version of events, Marcelia said she woke up to the baby crying, gave him a bottle, and put a movie on. She said she told her mother she gave the child a bottle and smelled smoke. She said she went upstairs and it was "pitch black," and she only made it to the top of the stairs.

Third statement

In a third version of events, after investigators asked to clarify the timeline, the complaint said Marcelia indicated she got up to use the bathroom, and went to her mother, telling her she didn't want to go to day treatment. She said her mom told her she had to go, so she showered and then went upstairs by the baby. At this point, she said she smelled smoke "in the whole house" and the baby was crying in the Pack 'n Play. She said she got the baby a bottle and the child was watching TV and there was "nothing out of the ordinary" in the room. Investigators confronted her, indicating she had earlier indicated she smelled smoke, and she said it smelled like burning paper in her sister's room, the complaint said.

Marcelia said her sister keeps a candle in the closet in her room next to the baby's room, so she checked to make sure it wasn't burning before opening the window and leaving. She said nothing was burning, and she never smelled anything when she went to give the baby a bottle. She said when she opened a bedroom door to let a cat out, she smelled smoke/chemicals and the smell traveled downstairs. According to the complaint, Marcelia said she went outside, came back in for water, and asked her mom how long it would be until her ride arrived for day treatment. She said she then went to the bathroom and smelled smoke. She told her mother, who checked the oven and ran upstairs. At this point, her 17-year-old sister burned her hands while trying to get to the baby.

Investigators asked Marcelia to clarify when she first smelled smoke, and she indicated it was when she was in her sister's room after feeing the baby, letting the cat out, and checking the candle. She was then confronted with the fact that she had indicated she smelled smoke while downstairs in the bathroom.

Fourth statement

In a fourth version of events, the complaint said Marcelia indicated she went to feed her nephew, stopped at her sister's room to let the cat out, and smelled smoke. She then opened her sister's window and went downstairs. She then went to the bathroom and went outside. At this point, while speaking with investigators, the complaint said Marcelia "questioned herself" and began mumbling to herself, saying, "Yeah, went to the bathroom." She was asked why she would wash her face in the bathroom after a 30-minute shower, and she indicated she had makeup on and didn't want to break out.

Marcelia told investigators she doesn't smoke and questioned how the fire started. Some family members indicated it had "something to do with the furnace." Marcelia's 17-year-old sister noted a cord had caught fire in the laundry room in the past. Marcelia suggested maybe it was water near the lava lamp which used an extension cord. Investigators wondered how water could cause a fire, and Marcelia indicated the cat liked to stick its head in a water glass near the lava lamp, and maybe it spilled and sparked a fire. According to the complaint, Marcelia said she didn't know why she didn't go back for the baby -- and didn't think it was a big issue.

She was questioned about the fact that she said the baby was in his Pack 'n Play -- yet firefighters found him on the floor. She indicated she didn't know how he got out, according to the complaint -- adding that she didn't start the fire, she wasn't in the room when it started, and she didn't know how it started.

Past incidents involving Marcelia

According to the complaint, Marcelia admitted she burned a house in the past with other kids in Milwaukee. She said she lit paper and it burned -- and the fire department didn't come because it wasn't a huge fire. She said she burned her house in Milwaukee, as well, and "thought fire was cool." She said her older sister had to help her put the fire out. She said she now burns wood at campfires and is the "firekeeper" when they camp.

The complaint said Marcelia was taken to the hospital as they were pulling life support from her 11-month-old nephew. Investigators heard Marcelia and her mother talking outside the room, Marcelia's mom telling her that "she needs to stop talking about how she is going to kill people."

The complaint noted more than 40 incidents of disruptive behavior at school involving Marcelia, and her mother said she "doesn't go to sleep until Marcelia is asleep because she's not sure what she will do to her siblings."

Additionally, the complaint noted in February -- four months before the fire, Marcelia's mother wanted to give up her parental rights to Marcelia because she "couldn't deal with her anymore."

By July, the family had retained an attorney and would no longer speak with investigators without that attorney present, the complaint said.

According to the complaint, evidence in the case includes documentation found in the hallway, a lighter found in the kitchen drawer, and a matchbox found in the baby's bedroom.

Marcelia told investigators that it "looks like she tried to kill the baby from the outside in, but denied doing anything like that," and said she was "trying to change for the better."

Marcelia Flora Fonseca made an initial appearance in adult court Wednesday, March 4.  She was ordered held on a $250,000 cash bond.

In Wisconsin, children ages 10 and older facing most homicide charges begin in adult court. There is a process to request to be moved to juvenile court at a later stage of the proceedings.