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Did they survive? TBI says children's fate is unknown

Thursday, September 27, 2012

(Photo)
Dr. Rita Tinsley and cadaver-sniffing dog Terra of Southeast Search Rescue goes through rubble from the Leon and Molly McClaran residence Wednesday afternoon. At the same time, state agencies were issuing statements saying Chloe Pope, also known as Chloie Leverette, and Gage Daniel may have survived the fire.
(T-G Photo by David Melson)
As cadaver dogs searched Wednesday afternoon for the remains of 9-year-old Chloie Leverette and 7-year-old Gage Daniel in the burned rubble of their home on Kingdom Road near Rover, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said the children may be alive.

"According to state bomb and arson investigators, the children were not victims of the fire and their whereabouts are unknown at this time," a TBI press release said.

The State Fire Marshal's Office said in a statement that it has concluded "that there are no remains of the two children in the structure. The children's location at this time is unknown."

TBI's reasons

But spokeswoman Kristin Helm later clarified the TBI is taking the approach "to err on the side of caution" since no bodies have been found.

"Under an abundance of caution we decided to issue an endangered child alert for the two children if they are not in fact found in the fire," she said. "They feel like they don't have solid evidence right now to assume these children were in the fire. It's not to say that they weren't, they may have been and further investigation may find that they were.

"To err on the side of caution, as far as law enforcement is concerned, we feel like we can leave no stone unturned and follow every lead we can to ensure they're not somewhere else."

DA makes request

District Attorney Robert Carter asked the TBI on Wednesday morning to investigate the fatal fire at the home where they lived with grandparents Leon and Molly McClaran and check into the whereabouts of the children, Helm said.

Investigators are speaking with family, friends and teachers at Community Elementary School, where the children attended, Helm said.

Their mother, Cheryl Leverette, did not respond to a request for comment from the Times-Gazette. Chris Daniel is Gage's father and Chloie's father is deceased, Sheriff Randall Boyce said.

Status change

The status of Chloie, who has previously been named by investigators as Chloe Pope, and Gage changed from "dead" to "missing" in remarks by Boyce on Wednesday morning before Carter's request.

Boyce said Wednesday afternoon he still believes the children were lost in the fire, suggesting the extremely high temperatures may have eliminated any traces of their bodies.

"As a father and grandfather myself I pray that these children are still alive," Boyce said.

The sheriff said Wednesday afternoon his department has not received any information at any time that the children survived.

The bodies of the McClarans, who were grandparents of the children, were taken to Nashville for autopsies, the TBI said.

Thorough search

Before the TBI's announcement, their agents searched the fire scene as cadaver dogs from Stewart County Emergency Management Agency sniffed piles of burnt wreckage and the remains of the home's basement.

"They've hit on a few areas and we've gone back and searched," Bedford County Fire Chief Mark Thomas. "Some of what we found has been sent to be tested to see if it's human remains.

"We also found some teeth. The state fire marshal took them to a dentist to see if they're from a human."

The Stewart County team was inspecting the piles of debris stacked near the home Wednesday, Thomas said.

Debris moved

"We brought out the debris of the home piece by piece," Thomas said. "The Bedford County Highway Department brought in equipment and Lee Adcock Construction brought in a Bobcat to remove the debris.

"Since the debris was removed and rearranged we thought we'd bring in a crew that specialized in that," Thomas said.

Stewart County's crew was heavily involved in inspecting debris from the World Trade Center in New York following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

"We wanted to make sure we covered everything thoroughly and make sure nothing was left behind," Thomas said. "We searched thoroughly Tuesday and feel like we got everything."

Look from above

The Tennessee Highway Patrol sent a helicopter to search the area around the home Wednesday morning.

"They searched over the fire scene and looked in the areas around it to see if the kids could have escaped and collapsed," Thomas said. No signs of the children's presence were found, according to Thomas.

An onboard thermal imaging device was also used, investigators said.