A fire at the former home of Donthe Lucas, a suspect in the disappearance of Kelsie Schelling more than four years ago, is being investigated as potential arson, raising speculation about a potential link to her case that police are trying to dampen. In the meantime, a fire department spokesperson confirms that the current residents of the house were home at the time the blaze erupted and sprang into action to put it out before more permanent damage was done.
As we've reported, Schelling was last seen on February 4, 2013, when she was 21. She vanished shortly after learning she was pregnant.
About ten days after Schelling went missing, her car, a Chevrolet Cruze, was located in the parking lot of St. Mary-Corwin hospital in Pueblo.
The following month, the Pueblo Police Department put out photos showing shots of the car circa February 5 and 6 from somewhere else — the parking lot of an area Walmart. More concerningly, the images depict a male getting into the car and driving it away.
Pueblo officers subsequently announced that they had looked for Schelling in various parts of the city using canines "specialized in searching for missing persons." But no breakthroughs emerged.
Then, at an April news conference, Schelling's family revealed new information about the pregnancy that motivated her drive to Pueblo, as well as details about her boyfriend.
According to Laura Saxton, Schelling's mother, her daughter got confirmation of her pregnancy on February 4, 2013. Doctor's records show that she was eight weeks pregnant, with the presumed father being her boyfriend, Lucas, who played basketball for Northeastern Junior College.
"Cell phone records show that Kelsie sent picture messages of her ultrasound pictures taken that day to family members and also to Donthe and his mother," Saxton said at an April 2013 press conference. "Cell phone records also show that Donthe asked Kelsie to come to Pueblo when she got off of work that night because he needed to speak with her in person.
"We know that Kelsie made it to Pueblo and did meet up with Donthe," Saxton continued. "No one has seen or heard from her since."
Donthe has never been charged in the case, but he's continued to be a focus of the investigation, which has heated up again over the past several months. In April, for instance, the backyard of his former residence, at 5113 Manor Ridge Drive, was excavated by a team from the Pueblo Police Department, with spokespersons saying items of evidentiary value were unearthed. Weeks later, crews dug up a field not far from the residence as well; in that instance, nothing new related to Schelling's disappearance was found.
Then, at 6:25 a.m. on June 16, members of the Pueblo Fire Department responded to reports of a fire at the home, which is no longer occupied by members of the Lucas family. Afterward, the matter was handed over to the Pueblo Police Department, which isn't commenting about the inquiry beyond the following statement: "We're investigating the fire as a possible arson. At this point, there is nothing to suggest that the fire is connected with the Kelsie Schelling case, but we are not ruling out anything until the investigation is complete."
Fire inspector Erik Duran, who also serves as the public information officer for the Pueblo Fire Department, can't talk about possible criminal actions, either. But he does provide interesting background on the circumstances of the fire itself, sharing details from thus-far unreleased documents while excluding information that might intrude on the police investigation.
A Pueblo Police Department photo from April shows the excavation behind the former home of Donthe Lucas.
"It's a single-family dwelling with an attached garage that extends to the front of the house toward the street," Duran notes. "The garage is approximately twelve or fifteen feet in depth until you get to the actual house — and at one point, pretty much the entire siding was burning to different degrees. It didn't reach the residential part of the structure at all, other than the part that was attached, but there were marks that showed the fire reached the eaves."
By the time PFD personnel arrived, Duran goes on, "there were no visible flames — just smoldering of the siding, which we extinguished. That's because the current residents of the home extinguished the flames using a portable extinguisher. But the family did not have to be displaced as a result of the fire."
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As for the cause, Duran says, "we have a fire investigator, and once he determines that a fire was incendiary, the case goes to the Pueblo Police Department for follow-up investigation, because they have arson investigators. From there, it can go to the CBI [Colorado Bureau of Investigations] or another agency. Sometimes we can follow up a little farther, but because of the history of the address, we invited them to investigate as soon as we determined that it was incendiary."
Duran doesn't engage in the sort of conjecture that's now rampant among observers of the missing-person investigation. Given the time the fire started and the pattern of the scorch marks, most believe someone tried to set the house on fire, apparently without worrying about whether people might be inside at the time — but whether that someone was interested in covering up evidence related to Schelling, expressing frustration at the lack of a resolution or making a twisted attempt at vengeance is unknown at this point.
As are the present whereabouts of Kelsie Jean Schelling.