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Nevelyn STOKES





Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Arson - Sseeking revenge against a woman and her boyfriend who had allegedly beat him in a street fight earlier in the day
Number of victims: 6
Date of murders: March 12, 1999
Date of birth: 1976
Victims profile: Amber Polk, 6 1/2 months, Briana Sanford, 2, Forise Dexter Nowden, 5, Jason Wordlaw, 6, Darrell Howell Jr., 8 and Danielle Williams, 9
Method of murder: Fire (gasoline)
Location: St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Status: Sentenced to separate terms of 120 years and life in prison on June 22, 2001

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March 12, 1999 - Six children were killed in a fire in the 1400 block of Salisbury. Police would later charge Nevelynn Stokes with first-degree murder. They said Stokes set the fire after he was beaten up during a quarrel with the woman who lived in the building and her boyfriend.


Arsonist gets terms of life, 120 years for fire that killed 6 children in apartment

St Louis Post-Dispatch

June 23, 2001

Nevelyn Stokes, 25, must serve nearly 64 years before he can be eligible for parole, lawyers say.

Despite being sentenced Friday to separate terms of 120 years and life in prison for setting a fire that killed six children, Nevelyn Stokes will still be eligible for parole - but not until he is at least 88 years old.

Stokes, 25, said nothing at the hearing before St. Louis Circuit Judge Donald McCullin. The defense lawyer, Kris Kerr, reminded the court of Stokes' testimony at trial that he did not know anyone was home when he splashed a gallon of gasoline in anger and ignited it.


Nevelyn Stokes

Nevelyn Stokes, 23, told police that he encountered a woman and her boyfriend Friday afternoon on the street. The pair beat him, he said. Stokes allegedly had robbed the woman about a month earlier, police said.

Later that Friday, Stokes, bent on revenge, was back at the woman's apartment.

He brought a can of gasoline with him. Sound like something bad is about to happen?

Police say Stokes set fire to a second story rear porch, apparently believing no one was in the building. But he was a little of the mark there, six children and three adults were inside.

A man, 18, dropped from a window. Firefighters picked another man, 19, off the roof. A woman, 20, tried to get to the third floor, where two of her children were. But she couldn't get through the flames and smoke and dropped from a window, suffering a broken leg.

Meanwhile, three of the children fled to a closet, apparently trying to escape the flames. Firefighters found their bodies. In the living room were the bodies of three more children. One wouldn't think that this left a pretty sight for the fireman.

Police identified the victims as Amber Polk, 6 1/2 months, Briana Sanford, 2, Forise Dexter Nowden, 5, Jason Wordlaw, 6, Darrell Howell Jr., 8 and Danielle Williams, 9.

Rather amusingly, and perhaps a testament to the stupidity of Stokes, the house was right across the road from a fire station. But even as close as they were, firefighters could not rescue the children as the flames spread rapidly.

Stokes was charged with one count of first degree arson and six counts of felony murder. The murder charge means a death was caused by the commission of a felony -- in this case, arson. Each count of felony murder carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Prosecutor Dwight Warren, who runs the homicide unit of the circuit attorney's office, said Stokes cannot be charged with first degree murder -- which could carry a death sentence -- because he had no intention to kill anyone. "We can't prove he knew anybody was in there," said Warren.

Investigators learned at the fire scene about the earlier fight involving Stokes and began looking for him.

Traffic Officer Tim Pratt went to Stokes' home in the 2500 block of Dodier Street. Fifteen people inside confronted the officer. Stokes' mother was afraid the police would harm her son, but Pratt convinced her to turn him over to police.

Stokes struggled briefly with Pratt. It is with some amusement that I can report that the police officer was assisted in this 'subduing' of the suspect by some of the people in the house.

The case has not yet been heard, but it would be a miracle if Nevelyn Stokes escapes a very long prison sentence.

As an interesting laughing point - the intended victims were not even in the house at the time of the fire.

The Wacky World of Murder


Grief that heals

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Editorial

March 17, 1999, Wednesday

The burgundy sedan crawled up Blair Avenue unnoticed. It pulled over and a stocky man wearing a scuffed hardhat and a construction jumpsuit opened the passenger's door. He rambled up to the brick building, pressed himself against it and gripped a pen. On a poster scribbled over with prayers andpoems, he wrote only this: "To Family and Friends. Be Strong." Then he bounded back into his getaway car and fled the pain.

His message joined hundreds of prayers, holy cards, stuffed animals and flowers. They spilled over the steps of the brick building in Hyde Park where six children died last week.

The fire that killed them grew out of a cycle of hatred and revenge.

The memorial that honored them grew out of a cycle of grace and acceptance.

The fire started, police say, after Nevelyn Stokes, 23, robbed a woman. The woman and her boyfriend paid him back with a beating. He paid them back by burning the woman's home - an apartment full of children.

The memorial, a raw outpouring of grief and faith, evolved overnight. Cheryl Evans, 25, and Denise Huber, 26, put a few dozen roses and carnations at the foot of the brick building where the children died. Ms. Evans owns a pizza place on the first floor of the building. The children died upstairs.

In the days and nights since the fire and the first roses, folks have been circling the corner of Blair Avenue and Salisbury Street. Children and adults arrive hand in hand, depositing a Big Bird piggy bank full of coins here, a mangled fluorescent pink teddy bear there. Ribbons and artificial flowers twist around nearby stop signs and streetlights. Black and white neighbors mingle, reading the prayers pasted against the windows, wiping away silent tears, mourning for the children who will never have children of their own.

In the silent reverence of their grief, some also marvel at the sense of community and acceptance around them, in a city neighborhood often known only for its violence and poverty. They know and comforteach other. They hug and mourn together. And all of St. Louis - a metropolitan area that celebrates its distance from places like Hyde Park - mourns with them.

What if we mourned this way every time a child died in our city? What if we comforted city children this way every time they lost someone to a violent death? What if we agonized this way every time an 18-year-old city student like Mr. Stokes quit school and turned to crime?

Many city kids face violence and death daily, with no memorials to mark their pain, no teddy bears to console them. What if we channeled our grief over the six Hyde Park children who died into compassion for their city classmates, neighbors and friends - the children of our city who are dying slowly, day by day?



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